Canada announces ban on single-use plastic products by 2021
As anticipated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday that Canada will ban many single-use plastic items, such as retail bags, straws, cutlery and stirring sticks, by 2021. Canada is following the lead of the European Union and some other countries in banning single-use plastics because it apparently has a horrendous littering problem.
What happens when irresponsible people don’t put waste where it belongs? Government entities must step in to cure the litterbug problem and ban products that people throw into the environment. A plastics ban won’t stop people from littering—they’ll continue to throw out paper plates, cups, straws, bags and wooden cutlery into the environment. We’ll still have an environment full of litter—it just won’t be plastics. Then, governments can go after paper manufacturers.
In a report from CNN, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is quoted as saying, “Plastic waste ends up in our landfills and incinerators, litters our parks and beaches, and pollutes our rivers, lakes and oceans.”
Actually I’m happy to hear that plastic waste ends up in incinerators because much of the value of plastic is in the BTUs (British thermal units) that can produce energy when burned. It’s too bad that people throw plastics into the trash where it goes to a landfill or into the environment because the value of that plastic cannot be captured.
According to estimates, only 10% of plastics in Canada get recycled, and by 2030 Canadians will throw away $11 billion of plastics a year. Canada must lack an adequate recycling infrastructure because no mention was made of recycling as a good alternative. That’s too bad.
Canadians can produce a lot of paper products because they have a lot of trees to cut down, so that’s not a problem. But if anyone in the Canadian government is astute enough to actually compare the manufacture of paper compared with plastics, there’s no doubt which product is more eco friendly and more recyclable—plastic, of course!
Paper that has been bleached with chlorine cannot be composted, so that leaves out most paper plates and straws. Paper straws are especially offensive when drinking from them as one can taste the chlorine. Paper cups and plates cannot typically be recycled because they are coated with polyethylene or wax to keep the food and liquids from soaking through the paper. That gets messy!
The Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) released a joint statement on this issue of banning plastics, stating that while they “fully endorse the objective of stopping waste, including plastic waste, from leaking into the environment,” they caution the government “not to pre-determine the outcome and consider impacts throughout the lifecycle of plastic products and their alternatives. Any rush to judgment could have serious implications on industry’s ability to create a circular economy for plastics that supports the national zero plastic waste strategy.”
Bob Masterson, President and CEO of CIAC, commented: “Consumer education is important, as we need a whole of society approach to the issue. Industry, governments, civil society and consumers must work together to solve this global issue.”
Both CIAC and CPIA realize that plastic does not walk into the environment by itself. It takes lots of irresponsible people to put that much waste—plastic, paper, metal and glass—into the environment. Consumer education must be at the forefront of any campaign to eliminate waste in the environment.
The Canadian chemistry and plastics industries are already stepping up to provide solutions through the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which is investing over US$1.5 billion to deliver waste management solutions globally. In 2018, CPIA and CIAC members committed to 100% of plastic packaging being re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040, and 100% of plastic packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
In August of 1944, Smokey the Bear was created and approved by the U.S. Forest Service as a way to educate people on preventing forest fires by extinguishing campfires and not throwing cigarette butts into dry grass and leaves. That ad still runs—in a modern format—because after 75 years, careless people still cause forest fires.
Maybe the plastics industry groups need to band together and develop an icon using a sea creature, such as a sea turtle, in an advertisement to educate consumers about the dangers of being a litterbug. We could have Tommy Turtle climb onto a beach littered with all types of trash—plastic, paper, aluminum, textiles and glass—saying “Only YOU can prevent killing sea life with trash! Put it where it belongs!"