Canada’s plastic ban far from the last straw
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Plastic straws — the single-use utensils that have become a symbol of the world’s growing garbage problem — have been outlawed in Canada. Sort of.
On Monday, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced the finalized details of the federal government’s plan to ban certain single-use plastics from being manufactured in and imported to Canada. The list of six products includes: checkout bags, cutlery, takeout containers that are hard to recycle, six-pack ring carriers, stir sticks and straws (with some exceptions).
Canada to say goodbye to some single-use plastics
OTTAWA - The federal government is banning companies from importing or making plastic bags and takeout containers by the end of this year, from selling them by the end of next year and from exporting them by the end of 2025.
The move will also affect most single-use plastic straws, as well as all stir sticks, and cutlery. Six-pack rings used to hold cans and bottles together will get slightly more time before the ban affects them, with June 2023 targeted for stopping production and import, and June 2024 to ban their sale.
There are some exceptions for flexible straws to accommodate people with disabilities. Juice boxes can also be sold with disposable plastic straws attached until June 2024.
"Our government is all-in when it comes to reducing plastic pollution," Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Monday at a news conference on a St. Lawrence River beach in Quebec City.
The ban is designed to curb the production and use of plastic litter that often ends up in the environment, wreaking havoc on wildlife and polluting ecosystems with microplastics. Plastic straws became a rallying cry for the zero waste movement when a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril circulated widely online several years ago. Unfortunately, just as switching to reusable straws won’t save the world’s sea life, Canada’s forthcoming ban won’t solve the country’s plastic waste woes.
By the government’s own estimates, the six prohibited products combined represent roughly three per cent of the plastic waste generated in Canada annually. That’s barely a drop in the recycled plastic bucket.
The ban does have some necessary limitations. Bendable plastic straws, for example, will continue to be produced for use in hospital settings and will be available for purchase by people with disabilities and other medical needs. The government has also said the current list is made up of plastics for which there are readily available alternatives.
While the legislation has been applauded by many as a positive starting point, environmental organizations argue the ban doesn’t go far enough. Advocates want to see more emphasis on plastic manufacturing regulations and less reliance on recycling as a solution.
“If recycling could work, it would have worked by now,” Karen Wirsig, program manager for Environmental Defence, said during a recent CBC Radio interview.
Only nine per cent of the three million tonnes of plastic waste Canadians produce annually is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, incinerators and the natural environment.
In its 2020 report on plastic pollution, Environmental Defence recommended a wider ban on single-use products, the expansion of container return and deposit programs nationally and incentives for businesses that offer reusable and refillable products at the consumer level.
The report also suggests banning compostable plastics in jurisdictions without industrial composting facilities — a measure that would directly affect Winnipeg.
“If recycling could work, it would have worked by now.” – Karen Wirsig
Locally, the national plastic ban is even less likely to stem the flow of single-use products entering our landfills. Winnipeg is the country’s largest city without a municipal composting program. That means biodegradable alternatives to the six prohibited plastics will end up at the dump, where they will decompose slowly in an anaerobic environment and contribute to harmful methane production.
Compostable cutlery, without the right environment in which to decompose, is just more garbage.
Plastic pollution is an issue that affects humans, ecosystems and wildlife alike. It is also an issue that will require individual action, government legislation and corporate responsibility to solve. Canada’s plastic ban is a good starting point, but it is very, very far from the final straw.