Canada's NDP


May 6th, 2024

We Need to See Leadership to Reduce Plastic Pollution

Last week, Ottawa hosted the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international plan to combat plastic pollution, otherwise known as INC-4. The meeting was designed with the hope that UN Member States would agree to a shared approach towards combatting plastic pollution because we have a long way to go to deal with this ever-growing problem.

From the outset, lets be clear: plastics are a useful product that are an essential part of everyday life. The reason plastics are so useful is that they can be moulded into virtually any shape we can imagine, they are durable and inexpensive, and they decompose very slowly. While that last part is a very good reason they are used in a lot of products, from vinyl siding to plumbing to car manufacturing to medical products and everything in between, it’s also the reason plastic pollution is such a massive problem.

Plastic waste threatens our ecosystem, biodiversity and people’s health. Worldwide, the equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into the world's oceans, rivers, and lakes every single day, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Plastic production is rising and is projected to account for up to 20% of carbon emissions by 2050. Very little plastics are recycled. In Canada, we recycle just 9% of the plastics we use, placing us around the global average. Most of our plastic waste, 86%, end up in landfills. According to UNEP, the world produces around 460 million tons of plastic a year, and production is only expanding. Canada alone discards more than four million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

Canada has also been sending our waste to developing nations under the guise of recycling. While many may remember the rising tensions between our nation and the Philippines a few years ago after they started returning shipping containers with Canadian household waste back to us in 2019, most of our plastic ends up in the U.S., where it is then often shipped to countries like Malaysia. Simply sending our waste somewhere we can’t see it isn’t the right approach.

This makes a worldwide treaty on plastic pollution important. Every part of the world is affected by plastic pollution. It’s affected our oceans to such a degree that we’ve actually named a collection of marine debris in the Pacific Ocean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a bit of a misnomer, as it refers to several separate garbage patches in the Pacific and is composed mostly of microplastics.)

The UNEP treaty is vital to reduce our global plastic waste, and Canada has a large part to play in both the negotiations, and leading the way on real action to ensure that we can actually reduce plastic waste. In 2018, New Democrats successfully passed a unanimous motion to create a national strategy to combat plastic pollution. Following its unanimous approval by all parties in the House of Commons, the government has committed to banning single-use plastics, but there are still serious gaps in the approach the Federal government can take to combat the problem. Their initial proposal included only six single-use plastics, representing less than one percent of total plastic waste.

While any formal treaty through UNEP won’t be finalized until their last meeting this fall in Korea, the government has signaled that they will be moving forward with a Federal Plastics Registry, to be phased in over several years, that will require companies to report the types of plastics they manufacture and import, and make plastic producers report on the life cycles of the products they create. The registry will start with plastic packaging, electronic products and single-use items, and will eventually expand to include plastic resins, tires and plastic products intended for the agricultural sector.

It’s good that nations are working together to create a comprehensive treaty on plastic pollution, but the problem will continue to grow unless we work towards solutions. In the meantime, many have been dismayed by the fact that Conservatives have tabled a bill to delete plastic manufactured items from the list of toxic substances from the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Meanwhile, the NDP recently tabled a motion in hopes of drawing Parliament’s attention towards the issue of plastic waste and getting us to commit to the entirety of the Basel Convention, specifically the Basel Ban Amendment which forbids the export of hazardous wastes to developing countries.

It's imperative that we get plastic waste under control sooner rather than later. Our health and the health of our planet depend on it.