The federal government has stepped up its war on plastic pollution, committing $2.3-million to learn more about its impacts on the natural environment and human health.
The funding will be channeled to 16 science-based research projects to fill knowledge gaps in its recently released study supporting a ban on most single-use plastics next year.
Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and climate change, made the announcement during a panel discussion at the virtual Zero Waste Conference in Vancouver Nov. 13.
“Plastic pollution is everywhere,” he said. “As home to the world’s longest coastline and one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, Canada is a huge player and has a huge stake in addressing this challenge.”
Schiefke noted Canadians throw out three-million tonnes of plastic waste every year, the equivalent of 570 garbage bags every minute. Only nine percent is recycled, while the rest ends up in landfills, waste-to-energy facilities, or the environment, according to government research.
Plastics are among the most universally used and discarded materials in the world, which, in micro states, has been detected in sediment, groundwater, soil, indoor and outdoor air, food and drinking water.
“What’s positive about where we are today is how aligned governments, business leaders and scientists are about tackling plastic pollution,” Schiefke said. “It’s because Canadians have made it clear they want action, and they want action now.”
Provincially, Premier John Horgan committed to developing an action plan to keep plastic pollution out of B.C. landfills and waterways during his Feb. 11 throne speech.
Globally, conference panelist, Chelsea Rochman, assistant professor in ecology at the University of Toronto, and scientific advisor to Ocean Conservancy, said roughly 19 to 23 metric tonnes of plastic goes into the environment every year, which will double in the next decade with the world’s current reduction commitments.
“Unless the growth in plastic production and use is halted, a fundamental transformation of the plastic economy is essential, where plastic products are valued, rather than becoming waste.”
She noted the actions needed for a circular-economy solution are mirrored by the federal government’s plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, announced last week.
This includes a proposed ban on harmful single-use plastic items that have readily available alternatives, including plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics.
Walmart Canada’s president and CEO, Horacio Barbeito, who also sat on the panel, agreed with Schiefke that many private-sector businesses are committed to reducing plastics use, particularly in packaging, but said many will likely need help with incentives and innovation.
“We need to inspire entrepreneurs,” he said.
“This is, for us, just as important as creating shareholder value … you can count on us to be a part of that journey.”