The federal government took another step forward in reducing plastic pollution Wednesday, releasing its latest report on the issue.
“The scientific assessment found that plastic is causing significant harm to wildlife, particularly marine life, who often ingest plastic or become entangled in it,” said Canada’s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.
“Plastic pollution threatens our natural environment. It fills our rivers, our lakes, and most particularly our oceans, choking out the wildlife that live there.”
Researchers found Canadians are throwing out three million tonnes of plastic every year — or 570 garbage bags full — each minute. As it stands, only nine per cent of that is being recycled, with the vast majority going to the landfills.
The proposed ban would eliminate plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six pack rings, foodware and cutlery by the end of 2021.
“They are harmful in the environment, they are costly to recycle and there are readily available alternatives,” Wilkinson said.
Canada banning single-use plastics by the end of 2021
The ban is good news for business at Greenmunch, a sustainable e-commerce store in Sherwood Park that specializes in green takeout containers.
“The items they’re targeting first are items that have easy replacements — so either a plastic straw or no straw at all. That’s already in place in a lot of places, similar with stir sticks.”
Owner Phillip Jacobsen says many grocery stores have also phased out plastic bags, replacing them with canvas totes or paper bags.
He also notes there’s a plethora of plastic alternatives when it comes to straws, utensils and food containers: from paper or sugar cane pulp, to wood, or even compostable plastics.
Jacobsen launched Greenmunch nearly a decade ago and growth has been steady especially, he said, in the last three years.
Even during the pandemic he was fielding orders from new clients, many of whom told him they want to go green because it’s good for the environment, not because they’re being forced to.
Alberta reacts to federal single-use plastics ban
As sustainable alternatives become more mainstream, they’re also getting cheaper.
“The costs are definitely coming down on a lot of things,” he said.
“Some items like a cup, maybe it’s only 10-15 per cent more.”
And in some cases, going green has resulted in financial savings.
“A couple years ago, what a lot of restaurants found was if you stop giving away a straw with every drink and you just give a paper straw when people ask, they’re actually saving money.”
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Meanwhile, the provincial government said the federal ban would infringe on its own plans for plastics.
The province announced on Tuesday that it plans to become an epicentre for plastics diversion by 2030 as part of its natural gas strategy.
The provincial plan would see plastic products manufactured in Alberta using natural gas, with enhanced recycling techniques to use recycled plastic in the manufacturing of new products.
Reality check: Alberta’s new natural gas strategy
In a statement, press secretary to Premier Jason Kenney, Christine Myatt, wrote: “Alberta does not think it’s a realistic policy, and is a particularly questionable priority given everything else currently going on in our country.”
To that end, Wilkinson said: “Canadians expect their government to be capable of addressing the COVID issue and addressing other challenges at the same time.”
The federal environment minister said Alberta’s strategy would only be supported by the federal ban.
According to Wilkinson, the ban is expected to spur investment in recycling products and infrastructure, while creating 42,000 jobs across the country.
When asked about the news from Ottawa, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said: “Stay in your own lane, stay within your own constitutional bounds.”
“Those plastics are going to be manufactured somewhere, and if it’s not here in Alberta, it’s going to increase manufacturing in other places.
“We need it in Alberta to diversify the economy and create jobs.”
Savage wants the federal government to support a stable regulatory climate for investment in plastics.
“A recognition from the federal government that plastics are a part of everyday life in Alberta and around the world, I think that would be helpful — for them to ensure that message gets out as well.”
Alberta reacts to federal single-use plastics ban
According to the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, the federal government is moving very quickly and arbitrarily with the ban on single-use plastics.
However, Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the CIAC said that plastics manufacturing is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and Alberta, with its vast array of resources, is poised to take advantage.
The concern, Masterson said, is the ban may be sending a signal that could scare away potential investors.
“The impact in Alberta is how is this message received by global investors that might be thinking of putting the next $15 billion into Alberta,” Masterson said.
Meanwhile, the proposed ban is being celebrated by advocacy groups like Plastic Free YYC.
The volunteer group aims to educate the public on the harm of plastic products.
Neha Virk, a volunteer with the group, said she is happy to see the federal government prioritize the decision, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key to success, Virk said, is providing the public with the education and alternatives to single-use plastics.
“As long as we offer alternatives, I think it’ll be an easy transition,” Virk said.
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