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Canada moves forward with its single-use plastics ban

A scientific assessment has confirmed enormous amounts of waste and definite harm to wildlife.

It has been almost eight months since prime minister Justin Trudeau promised that Canada would get rid of single-use plastics. Last June he launched a scientific assessment, required by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in order to implement such a ban, and a draft version was just published on Thursday. From CBC:

“The report says that in 2016, 29,000 tonnes of plastic garbage, the equivalent of about 2.3 billion single-use plastic water bottles, ended up as litter in Canada — on beaches, in parks, in lakes and even in the air.”

The report looked at both macroplastics and microplastics. Macroplastics are larger pieces that animals may ingest or tangled in, such as shopping bags, toothbrushes, and nylon ropes. These interfere with their ability to breathe, digest food, and feel hunger, often resulting in starvation and death. The harmful effects of macroplastics are indisputably clear.

Whale with plastic in its stomach© Darrell Blatchley, director of D' Bone Collector Museum Inc., shows plastic waste found in the stomach of a Cuvier's beaked whale in Compostela Valley, Davao. March 16, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

According to the CBC, the report is less certain when it comes to the impact of microplastics, which are small plastic fragments measuring less than 5 mm. These result when larger pieces of plastic break down in the natural environment, or when synthetic fabric shed tiny fibers in the laundry. Scientists do not understand the full impact on wildlife and humans, who ingest these fragments inadvertently, so the government says it will fund a $2.2-million study over the next two years to look into it further.

No list of banned products has been released yet, but Canadians can expect it in the next several months. It will likely include plastic shopping bags, straws, disposable cutlery, cotton swabs with plastic sticks, drink stirrers, and takeout food containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene.

Environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson reassured Canadians that the phase-out will happen quickly and that the evidence on macroplastics is enough to start moving forward with the ban. He said, “I think the Canadian public wants to see action quickly, so certainly if there is a phase-in period, it won't be an extensive one.”

I hope that the ban is accompanied by expanded refill stations in stores so that people can use their own containers – and are given incentives to do so. (Read: How to improve the zero-waste shopping experience) That would be a more progressive move than simply switching to different forms of single-use, disposable packaging, which still require valuable resources to produce and perpetuate throwaway culture.

A scientific assessment has confirmed enormous amounts of waste and definite harm to wildlife.