The federal government is aiming to cut the use of single-use plastics and announced Wednesday that a national ban is planned to come into effect by the end of next year.
Even in Northern regions, single-use plastics and microplastics are found in lakes, rivers and oceans, said Jonathan Wilkinson, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, in announcing the ban from Ottawa on Wednesday morning.
“Canadians see the impacts that pollution has from coast to coast to coast that plastics and microplastics that are found even in the Northern most regions of this country,” Wilkinson said.
The minister said Canadians can expect to see the ban include plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six pack rings, cutlery, and foodware from hard-to-recycle plastics, like expanded polystyrene.
The ban aligns with the Government of Canada’s aim to “achieve zero plastic waste by 2030” and regulations will be in place by the end of 2021.
Wilkinson said close to three million tonnes of plastic waste is disposed of by Canadians every year. Of that, nine per cent is recycled.
“The vast majority of plastics end up in landfills and about 29,000 tonnes finds its way into our natural environment,” Wilkinson added. “Canadians expect the government to take action to protect the environment and to reduce plastic pollution across the country.”
Wednesday’s announcement coincided with the release of a discussion paper by the federal department called ‘A proposed integrated management approach to plastic products to prevent waste and pollution.’
The paper provides background information about plastics impacting the natural environment in Canada and is seeking input from provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments and other groups about the implications of a national ban.
Walt Humphries, prospector columnist with NNSL Media, has long written about the problem of plastics in the Northern natural environment and said this week that plastics have almost become “a geological layer.” It isn’t rare to find plastics in remote areas in the bush where they have either been blown by the wind or carried by birds.
But his biggest complaint is how government carries out such a ban and adds that one year is not enough.
“In principle I’m in support of reducing plastics, but my problem is the way they do about things,” Humphries said. “They come up with a blanket ban a year from now and plan to do away with all plastics.”
Humphries pointed out that as an example, reusable bags at retails stores in the Northwest Territories were introduced almost a decade ago. Over that period of time, the federal government could have put the ban in gradually to give people time to adjust, he said.
“So one year is not enough and I think they should phase it in,” he said. “I think one of the things with a phased-in approach is that if you give people enough time they will come up with solutions whether it comes to banning straws or various other things. It takes some time to get the right solutions and you don’t do it one year out, in middle of the Covid pandemic.”
Michael McLeod, Member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, welcomed the announcement on Thursday noting that the Northwest Territories is one of the most pristine areas in the country.
He said that a year will be enough time, particularly because Northerners and other Canadians are being asked to participate in a discussion paper about it.
The biggest thing is that people have been aware about the issue for a long time and what the government will do to act, he said. It isn’t rare to hear stories or encounter plastics on the land if someone has been there before.
“I am hearing, as I have heard over the years, and I have seen it myself when going out camping or hunting,” McLeod said. “It doesn’t matter where you go, if someone has been there before, you will see plastics whether it is shells or tarps or torn tarps and containers and bags. Sometimes you will find it stuck in the trees or in some cases buried.
“It upsets a lot of people and I have heard from Elders that people are not following the practices of garbage-in and garbage-out or leave only footprints on the ground and no garbage and waste.”
As it comes to marine life and wildlife, McLeod said the federal government will need to focus more on microplastics at a later date.
“I think it is applicable when we start talking about microplastics and that is an area down the road we will start to addressing,” he said.