Twelve leading ocean conservation groups have banded together to request that Canada’s environment and health ministers take immediate regulatory action to reduce plastic waste and pollution.
Drawing on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999, the organizations are calling on the government of Canada to update the legislation’s list of toxic substances. They are asking that any plastic that is generated as waste, or discharged from the use or disposal of products and packaging, be added to the list.
That action would allow the federal government to pass a new set of laws. Under the new designation of plastic products, Ottawa could legislate that companies creating products containing plastics or using plastic packaging would be obliged to recycle those materials. In addition, it could determine that plastics could not be exported to developing countries, require all plastic to be recycled, and ban single-use plastics.
The 12 ocean conservation groups include high-profile organizations like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Legacy, the Ocean Legacy Foundation, and the Coastal Restoration Society.
The announcement comes on the heels of evidence that plastics are not just poisoning ocean life, but also human bodies. Yesterday, a study from the University of Victoria hit headlines after it revealed that the average person consumes between 70,000 to 121,000 microplastics—pieces of plastic under five millimeters in diameter—every year. Microplastic particles are known to be harmful to the human body, but a safe dose has not yet been determined.
In the marine world, plastics are currently causing devastation in ecosystems. Larger pieces of plastic have been observed blocking the gills and stomach of fish, convincing the animal that it’s full and causing it to starve to death. More insidiously, chemicals contained in plastics disrupt the endocrine systems of marine life, causing hormonal changes in their bodies that can challenge vital life processes like fertility.
“We see discarded plastic bottles, bottle caps, cigarette butts, fishing nets, buoys, crab trays, ropes and polystyrene all along the coast and in the coastal waters of British Columbia,” says Chloé Dubois, president of the Ocean Legacy Foundation: an organization that develops and implements plastic pollution emergency response programs worldwide. “We can see it, scientists say it is having an impact, and other jurisdictions are taking action. It is time we start treating plastic pollution as a solid form oil spill that it is. We need to act now.”
Studies currently put Canada’s rate of plastic recycling around 10 percent. The vast majority—93 percent—ends up in landfill or is burned. The country’s lakes, rivers, and oceans receive an additional 29,000 metric tonnes of plastic litter every year: the equivalent of 9.7 billion coffee cup lids.
“On December 22 2018, Motion 151 passed unanimously in the House of Commons,” says Michelle Hall, vice president of Surfrider Foundation Canada: a community of everyday people dedicated to cleaning up the oceans, and a signatory of the petition. “It calls for, among other things, the regulation of single-use plastics, the development of a plan to clean up derelict fishing gear and marine debris, and regulation to make companies making plastic products and using plastic packaging responsible for collection and recycling. The Canadian government has a powerful mandate from an overwhelming majority of Canadians to stop our plastic problem from being exported and to tackle it here and now.”
Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays