A few years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized for appearing to use plastic knives and forks to eat pizza at an election rally.
The problem wasn’t so much that the pizza is meant to be eaten by hand, although some people commented on this, it was that just two weeks earlier, Trudeau promised the world that Canada would ban single-use plastics starting in 2021.
Fast forward two and a half years and liberals have labeled plastic utensils “harmful” and “toxic.”
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The government also faces criticism for regulations aimed at banning these and other single-use plastics.
This is because the draft rules, released Tuesday by Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, include an exemption that will allow Canadian manufacturers to make and sell these items, as long as they are destined for export.
So while Canadians could soon find themselves without plastic box bags, straws, and mixing sticks, it is acceptable to liberals if Canadian businesses continue to profit from them.
“The proposed regulations seek to minimize costs to government and industry, while at the same time meeting the policy objectives of preventing plastic pollution and protecting the environment,” said a Guilbeault spokesman.
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This argument is similar to the argument put forward by conservative leader Erin O’Toole when it comes to oil and gas.
O’Toole has repeatedly said that he does not support regulations that could harm Canada’s oil and gas sector because lost production will simply be made up for by producers in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia.
This is bad for the economy and the environment, O’Toole said, because Canada has stricter standards than many other countries.
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And then there are the jobs – hundreds of thousands of them in the oil and gas industry in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Atlantic Canada.
Plastics are big business too.
A 2019 study by Environment and Climate Change Canada found that plastics account for about five percent of Canadian manufacturing sales and are worth $ 35 billion a year, including $ 10 billion of “virgin” or “plastics.” primary “.
The industry also employs about 100,000 people in 4,000 different businesses.
“Banning single-use plastics manufactured or imported for export would not lead to an overall reduction in plastics,” Guilbeault’s spokesman said.
“On the contrary, companies in countries that still allow export are likely to meet global demand.”
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Guilbault’s argument also appears to contradict the government’s position on other environmentally harmful materials.
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During the most recent federal election campaign, Liberals promised that Canada will stop exporting thermal coal. The Liberals made this promise because they recognize that thermal coal is harmful to the environment, no matter where it is burned.
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The ban on thermal coal exports also aligns Canada’s business practices with its national policies, which aim to phase out the use of thermal coal in electricity generation by 2030.
Environmentalists say the government should take the same approach when it comes to single-use plastics.
“From a marine health perspective, this is simply not enough. Our ocean knows no borders, ”said Nic Schulz, spokesperson for Ocean Wise.
“If Canada is going to be the leader in single-use plastic, this should extend to what is produced in Canada, but used elsewhere.”
Plastic pollution leads to local bans
Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental concerns of the 21st century.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, more than a million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world. That is around 500 billion bottles a year. Another five billion plastic bags are used around the world each year.
The UN also says that about half of all plastics made today are designed for one-time use. Much of this debris ends up in waterways where it kills marine animals, threatens ecosystems, and infiltrates the food web by breaking down into smaller pieces of microplastic.
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A paper co-authored by University of Toronto researcher Chelsea Rochman and published in the journal Science estimated that between 24 and 34 million metric tons of plastic waste were released into the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans in 2020. The researchers They said this number could rise. up to 90 million tonnes a year by 2030 if the use of plastic does not change.
“When and if humans go extinct, and if there is some new kind of archaeologist looking for what was here before, the plastic will be the signature,” Rochman said.
The risks created by plastic waste have prompted Canadian provincial and local governments to go ahead with their own bans.
In July 2019, Prince Edward Island banned plastic box bags. In October 2020, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland followed suit. There are a few exceptions to these rules, for things like bulk food, dry cleaning, and shipping live seafood, but for the most part, plastic bags are no longer available in these provinces.
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Other governments have gone even further.
Vancouver banned Styrofoam cups and takeout containers in January 2020. Three months later, the city banned plastic straws and required restaurants and food vendors to ask customers before giving away plastic utensils.
Plastic grocery bags will also be banned in Vancouver starting January 1. Paper alternatives can be purchased, but they must contain at least 40 percent recycled material.
And customers must now also pay a minimum fee of 25 cents for each disposable cup they purchase.
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There are so many rules that the Retail Council of Canada created a reference guide to help companies navigate the “patchwork” of single-use plastics bans passed by different levels of government.
All of this, from Tofino, BC to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL, happened without the intervention of the federal government.
“It’s better late than never, but obviously we would have liked to see this done sooner,” said Karen Wirsig, manager of the plastics program at Environmental Defense.
Wirsig said he is pleased that the government has taken steps to ban single-use plastics, but believes much more needs to be done.
You would like to see the list of prohibited items expanded to include more types of packaging. Otherwise, he said, Canadians will continue to see more and more plastics filling landfills and littering the shores.
“To really end plastic waste will take some important, exciting, and systemic changes that need to start sooner rather than later,” he said, “or we won’t get there.”
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