Canada plans to ban some single-use plastics like straws, bags and cutlery by early 2021 to reduce un-recyclable waste and protect the world’s oceans, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday.
Trudeau announced the move from the banks of a lake in Gault Nature Reserve in Quebec less than five months before a national election in which climate change and pollution are among the top campaign issues.
“To be honest, as a dad, it’s tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches around the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags?” Trudeau said.
“As parents we’re at a point when we take our kids to the beach and we have to search out a patch of sand that isn’t littered with straws, Styrofoam or bottles. That’s a problem, one that we have to do something about.”
Canada’s move follows one by the European Parliament, which voted earlier this year to ban several single-use plastic products, and recent disputes with the Philippines and Malaysia over Canadian waste shipped to them.
Last year, Canada sponsored a G7 ocean plastics charter intended to spur a reduction in plastics use. In May the United Nations said 180 countries reached a deal to reduce sharply the amount of plastic that gets washed into the oceans.
Canada’s delay on implementation until 2021 gives time to make a “science-based” decision on exactly which plastics “are harmful to the environment and human health,” according to a government statement.
It will also give businesses time to adjust. Fast-food restaurants will have to find new solutions for straws and cutlery, for example. Canada may require manufacturers to use a set amount of recycled content, the statement said. Also, the federal government will work with provincial authorities so that companies, rather than just municipalities, take more responsibility for the recycling process.
Canada recently became entangled in a political dispute with the Philippines over 1,500 tons of household waste – mislabeled as recyclable plastics – shipped to Southeast Asia in 2013 and 2014. Canada agreed to take it back last month after a protracted diplomatic spat.
Malaysia similarly said it would return 3,000 tons of plastic waste from Canada, the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. “The issue of plastic pollution will increasingly be seen as an issue for developing countries that feel they are being dumped with waste from rich countries that should be taking care of their own waste internally,” said Sara Seck, a Dalhousie University law professor.
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