Canadian Prime Minister Responds to Pressure and Announces Action on Plastic Waste

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Where the Trump administration casts blame on everyone but the U.S. for plastic pollution on the oceans, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepts our common responsibility to act.

There is a vast difference in the way that the administrations of President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regard the environment. That can best be illustrated by the Canadian government’s swift response to pressure from conservation and environmental groups.

On June 6, twelve ocean conservancy and environmental groups called on Canada’s environment and health ministers to take immediate regulatory action on plastic waste and pollution under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) 1999. The groups also called on the government of Canada to add plastic waste generated from the use of disposal of products or packaging to the Schedule 1 List of Toxic Substances under CEPA.

Four days after the 12 organizations called on the Canadian government to take action regarding plastic waste, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government would take steps to reduce plastic waste in the country. Those specific steps include:

  • Banning single-use plastics as early as 2021
  • Working with provinces and territories to introduce standards and targets for companies that manufacture plastic products or sell products with plastic packaging

The Canadian government estimates that by taking these steps it can reduce 1.8 million tons of carbon emissions, generate billions of dollars in revenue, and create about 42,000 jobs. In other words, it will be a win for the environment and the economy.

“Canadians know first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution and are tired of seeing their beaches, parks, streets, and shorelines littered with plastic waste,” said Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.

“We have a responsibility to work with our partners to reduce plastic pollution, protect the environment, and create jobs and grow our economy. ”

A good first step, according to environmental groups

Two of the 12 organizations that called on the Canadian government to take action issued statements. Environmental Defence is one of those organization. Vito Buonsante, Plastics Program Manager, said in a statement that they “applaud Canada for taking action.” But the organization insisted that plastics need to be recognized as harmful under the Canada Environmental Protection Act, followed by passing regulations to minimize the harm of plastic pollution.

Friends of the Earth Canada is the other organization to issue a statement. The environmental group stated that it “welcomes this suite of measures,” but called on the Canadian government to commit to a 100 percent zero plastic waste target.

Canada needs to improve its plastic waste recycling rate

Canada’s plastic recycling rate is only nine percent, and 91 percent (2.93 million tons) of the plastic in the country ends up either in landfills or is burned, according to a government report.

Polluted river bank

Canada’s rivers, lakes, and oceans end up with 29,000 metric tons of plastic waste, which equals 9.7 billion coffee cup lids. If nothing changes, Canadians will throw away about CA$11 billion worth of plastic materials every year by 2030.

Plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the environment amounts to CA$7.8 billion of lost opportunity. While recycled plastics in Canada accounted for CA$350 million in sales in 2016, the sales of its primary resin competitor were 30 times larger. The government report found that under an “ambitious 2030 scenario,” a 90 percent landfill diversion rate for plastic waste could be achieved.

Trump fails to take enough action to protect U.S. oceans from plastic pollution

While President Trump did sign legislation into law that increases the federal government’s efforts to reduce ocean plastic pollution, he blamed the presence of plastic in U.S. oceans on other countries. "As president, I will continue to do everything I can to stop other nations from making our oceans into their landfills," Trump said. "That's why I'm pleased — very pleased, I must say — to put my signature on this important legislation."

What Trump alludes to is that five Asian nations (China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand) are responsible for over half of the plastic waste in the world’s oceans. However, the plastic recycling rate in the U.S. is decreasing. Clearly, we can do much better.

The U.S. is one of two members of the G7 bloc economic bloc that did not sign the G7’s Plastic Charter on marine waste in 2018. Japan is the other member that did not sign the charter. Canada did sign it. We can learn something from Canada and Trudeau.


Climate Politics & Policy