Taking aim at single use plastics will save us money while making a real difference

Carol Hughes, MP
Carol Hughes, MP

When it comes to taking concrete steps that will protect the environment, North America lags behind other jurisdictions.  That said it is hard to find people who would argue against the idea of creating less waste, especially for plastics which are destined for land-fills and are wreaking havoc in the oceans.  While there might be some inconvenience as we move away from things like plastic cutlery or excess packaging the benefits far outweigh the concerns and there are monetary gains to be made as well.

Europe offers us an example of that with new EU legislation that will ban single-use plastics like straws, plates, and cutlery.  In addition to that, they are working to increase recycling on items like plastic bottles.  It is expected these regulations will eliminate $24.9 billion in projected environmental damages and save consumers $7.38 billion over the next decade alone.

Apart from cost savings, there are also opportunities for innovation to fill the gaps that will occur when items like plastic cutlery are no longer viable options.  Look at takeout chop sticks as an example of an entirely biodegradable option.  Made from wood and packaged in a paper sleeve, you could drop these into the ocean (although this isn’t to recommend doing that) without much worry while the same can’t be said for the plastic rings that hold six-packs together.

New Democrats have been working on these issues and receiving a lot of support for our efforts. Over 170,000 people signed a petition in favour of our ocean plastic motion so it only makes sense to follow that up with legislation aimed at the source of some of that pollution – single use plastics.  That’s what happened this week when we rolled out the Zero-Waste Packaging Act that will require all consumer product packaging to be either recyclable or compostable. The aim is to reduce plastic waste, cut the cost that municipalities pay for landfills, and help Canadians recycle.

A number of environmental and recycling groups have already expressed support for the bill, pointing to its potential to set clear standards to make recycling easier for Canadians and to reduce the environmental damage from excessive plastic packaging. Additionally, with single-use plastics accounting for 70 percent of all marine litter, this will help us make headway on an issue that clearly has a lot of Canadians concerned.

We have seen how the debate on climate change is a contentious issue.  The same can’t be said for attempts to combat plastic pollution, but there is significant work to be done if Canada wants to catch up to world leaders on this front. Right now, only 11% of plastics in Canada are recycled. The government says they are committed to reducing plastic waste, but we don’t have any national legislation to help us get to a zero waste Canada. We must do better. If the European Union, with over 500 million people, can commit to taking meaningful steps to tackle plastic waste then surely Canada can too.

L’élimination du plastique à usage unique : bon pour le portefeuille et pour l’environnement

L’Amérique du Nord met parfois plus de temps que d’autres régions du monde à prendre des mesures concrètes pour protéger l’environnement. Pourtant, il n’y a pas grand-monde qui soit contre l’idée de réduire notre volume de déchets – surtout ces déchets en plastique qui finissent à la décharge ou qui font tellement de mal aux océans. Eh bien, l’abandon de pratiques comme le suremballage ou l’utilisation d’ustensiles de plastique aurait des avantages – y compris monétaires – qui l’emporteraient de beaucoup sur les inconvénients.

L’Union européenne peut nous servir d’exemple : elle a adopté une nouvelle loi qui interdira les articles de plastique à usage unique, comme les pailles, les assiettes ou les ustensiles, en plus d’accroître le recyclage des ordures comme les bouteilles de plastique. Au cours des 10 prochaines années seulement, les nouvelles règles devraient épargner à l’environnement des dommages de 24,9 milliards de dollars, et aux consommateurs des dépenses de 7,38 milliards de dollars. De plus, la disparition des articles de plastique comme les ustensiles ouvrira la voie à des nouvelles innovations. Prenons l’exemple des baguettes biodégradables qu’on peut recevoir maintenant quand on commande des mets asiatiques. Puisqu’elles sont faites en bois et que leur emballage est en papier, elles ne présentent pas de risque pour les océans. Mais on ne peut pas en dire autant des anneaux en plastique qui tiennent ensemble les cannettes bières.

Beaucoup de gens appuient les efforts du Nouveau Parti démocratique dans ce dossier. Ainsi, plus de 170 000 personnes ont signé une pétition en faveur de notre motion sur les risques que représente le plastique pour les océans. Pour y donner suite, nous avons déposé cette semaine un projet de loi qui s’attaque à la source d’une partie de cette pollution – le plastique à usage unique. Notre projet de loi, intitulé Loi sur les emballages zéro déchet, exige que tout le matériel d’emballage des produits de consommation soit recyclable ou compostable. Ainsi, on réduira le volume des déchets de plastique, l’enfouissement coûtera moins cher aux municipalités, et les Canadiens seront encouragés à recycler.

Plusieurs groupes de défense de l’environnement ou de promotion du recyclage appuient notre projet de loi, parce qu’il établit des normes claires qui faciliteront le recyclage et atténueront les dommages environnementaux causés par l’emballage excessif. Beaucoup de Canadiens veulent clairement que le gouvernement agisse pour réduire le plastique à usage unique, qui représente 70 % des ordures en milieu marin.

Contrairement à la question des changements climatiques, la lutte contre la pollution plastique ne fait pas vraiment débat. Pourtant, le Canada a beaucoup de chemin à faire pour rattraper les pays qui sont à la tête de ce combat. En effet, seulement 11 % du plastique est recyclé à l’heure actuelle au Canada. Le gouvernement dit qu’il veut agir, mais nous n’avons pas pour l’instant de loi nationale visant l’élimination des déchets au Canada. Nous devons faire mieux. Si l’Union européenne, qui a une population de plus de 500 millions de personnes, peut adopter des mesures concrètes lutter contre la pollution plastique, le Canada peut sûrement en faire autant.


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Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.


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