Canadians Demand Nation-Wide Strategy on Plastic Pollution

CC BY 2.0. Hillary Daniels

It's time for action on the federal level.

On November 3, 2016, a South Korean ship spilled 35 containers off the coast of Vancouver Island. The result was a mess of Styrofoam and metal that washed up on the famously beautiful beaches of Tofino and surrounding area. To make the situation worse, the federal government refused to provide funds to help with the cleanup, leaving local organizations and volunteers to do all the work. (The government said it was the shipping company's responsibility to pay.)

For Gord Johns, the MP who represents the region, this experience made him realize the need for a federal strategy on (a) shoreline cleanups, which are an unfortunate reality in this day and age, and (b) an effort to stop the flow of plastic at its source. In response, Johns has tabled a new bill, titled M-151, that

"aims to create permanent, dedicated, and annual funding for community led projects to clean up plastics and debris, and to reduce the use of micro-plastics and single-use plastics."

It is a good time for Canada to consider such a step. As president of the G7, environment minister Catherine McKenna has mentioned adopting a zero-plastics-waste charter and pushing anti-plastics interest beyond the G7 nations to the G20. However, McKenna and Prime Minister Trudeau have both been criticized for failing to take stronger action at home. Canada has not implemented any broad-reaching bans on plastics bags or single-use disposable plastics, despite several cities doing so independently. Nor does it seem to have any kind of comprehensive response to disasters, such as the one in Tofino, when they happen. Mayor Josie Osborne described the community's struggle to get any kind of response to the Globe and Mail. Clearly it's not a priority:

"You've got Coast Guard, Parks Canada and Transport Canada. That's three departments of the federal government that all have some role here but, but to be honest, I don't really know who does what. And it seems like not very many people do know."

A federal policy would be far more effective than leaving it up to municipalities, said Tony Walker, a professor of environmental studies at Dalhousie University. He told CBC that "Canada is actually lagging behind many other countries, at least 40 of which have enacted some sort of national policy to curb the use of single-use plastic drink bottles, plates, straws and grocery bags."

Enter MP Gord Johns' new motion, which is exactly what many Canadians are wanting to see. Already, the online petition associated with the motion has nearly 30,000 signatures from citizens who want corporations and retailers to be held accountable for their waste and forced to come up with alternatives. Speaking in the House of Commons last December, Johns said:

"The petitioners call on the government to recognize plastic pollution in aquatic environments and the fact that they pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of wildlife, sensitive ecosystems, communities, and the environment. They call on the government to create a permanent, dedicated, and annual fund for community-led projects to clean up plastics and debris, and additionally to reduce industrial use of micro-plastics, plastic debris, discharge from stormwater outfalls, and consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics."

This is the kind of planet-improving politics I want to read about and throw my support behind. Join the fight against plastic pollution by adding your name and voice to the petition. You can sign here.