OTTAWA—The federal government has vowed to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics from its own operations and recycle at least three-quarters of its remaining plastic by 2030, commitments that environmental groups welcomed as a first step toward the tougher regulations they seek.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced the moves Thursday on the sidelines of a meeting in Halifax with her G7 counterparts.
“We’re going to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics throughout government operations. So this includes straws, cutlery, packaging, cups, bottles,” McKenna told reporters Thursday.
Ottawa is also pledging to recycle at least 75 per cent of the plastic used by the federal government by 2030, she said.
Eric Campbell, McKenna’s director of communications, said the moves are just “one step” the government is taking as it looks at ways to reduce plastics that enter waterways and oceans and damage the environment. Earlier this year, Ottawa also moved to ban plastic “microbeads” found in consumer products like bath gels.
“We need to show leadership and we need to mind our own house and get our own house in order,” Campbell said.
Ashley Wallis, water and plastics manager with Environmental Defence, said she hopes Thursday’s announcement is a sign that Ottawa will push for stricter regulations when it unveils its signature plastic waste strategy, which is expected this fall. Wallis said she would like to see mandatory recycling targets for the private sector, as well as regulations on how much plastic can be used in certain products.
“It’s great to see leadership from the federal government in terms of what they can act on quickly,” she said, adding that eliminating single-use plastics and slashing plastic waste are “the easiest things they could do.”
James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, a lawyer with Ecojustice, an environmental activist umbrella group, agreed that Thursday’s commitments are a “positive step.” But he said Ecojustice has been calling on Ottawa to add plastics to a list of “priority substances” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That would require the federal government to conduct toxicity reviews for plastics and increase the likelihood of stricter regulations, Gunvaldsen Klaassen said.
“There is evidence that it is definitely causing harm to the environment and killing wildlife,” he said.
Roughly 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.
With files from The Canadian Press
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga