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July 14, 2024

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Update 2020/10/5


By Suzanne Forcese

Drowning in Plastic, Oceana poster

As Canadians we are proud of our environmental awareness. We did after all debut the now global blue box recycling bins in Kitchener, ON in 1981. Yet, despite our recycling efforts, the oceans are drowning in plastic. What went wrong?

“Whatever we do on the land makes its way to our oceans; and, whatever happens in our oceans makes its way to us on the land.” Kim Elmslie, Campaign Director, Oceana Canada

A report launched by Oceana Canada shows that the massive amount of plastic waste Canada is generating disproportionately contributes to the global plastic disaster that is choking our oceans and the animals that inhabit them. The report outlines how the Canadian government can help turn the tide on one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
  • Although Canadians make up less than 0.5% of the global population, we use 1.4% of all plastic produced
  • Canada currently uses 4.6 million tonnes of plastics every year – roughly 125 kilograms per person
  • In 2010, Canada produced 9 times more plastic waste per person than India, up to 3.6 times more than some countries in Southeast Asia and up to twice that of some Scandinavian countries
  • Between 1988-2016 Canada shipped almost four million tonnes of plastics abroad mostly to Asian countries
  • Approximately half of all plastics discarded in Canada is single use
WATERTODAY had the pleasure of speaking with Kim Elmslie, Campaign Director and editor of the Oceana Canada report. “Because of COVID -19 we are seeing a delay in taking action on this crisis,” Elmslie told WT. “The delay is one of the reasons we are sharing this with the public.”

Only 9% of our blue box and industrial plastics end up being recycled. Packaging makes up almost half this waste and the COVID-19 crisis is making this worse with the use of plastic containers for take-out food, as well as disposable masks and gloves.

In June 2020, polling by Abacus Data on behalf of Oceana Canada found that 87% of Canadians are overwhelmingly concerned about plastic pollution and its impact on the environment and that 86% support a national ban on single-use plastic. When respondents learned that only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled, a full 96% were upset, disappointed, angry and/or surprised. “The plastic disaster won’t end without government leadership.”

Elmslie says the report has reached the desks of the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Environment, and every MP and Senator in Canada.

“The Government of Canada has committed to protecting our oceans – taking serious and definitive action to end our country’s contribution to the plastic disaster is a vital part of that plan,” Elmslie says.

Canada boasts the world’s longest coastline, touching three oceans.

Much of the plastic we discard ends up in the oceans. Plastic from overflowing trash cans, litter on the streets and waste sitting in landfill can get blown into storm water sewers, rivers or streams. On top of that, microplastics from clothing get washed down the drain. Ultimately it all flows into the sea where it threatens whales, birds, turtles and other marine life.

“Canada has a national and global responsibility to stop this damage. We need to move away from our current system where in most cases plastic that lasts for centuries is created used once and then immediately disposed of.”

Elmslie says this is Canada’s opportunity to become a global leader. “Other countries are serving as models…it can be done. Canadians want plastic-free choices. We don’t have those choices right now. If you go to the grocery store you have to buy your food in plastic packaging.”

While recycling is often presented as a solution it is in reality a false assumption and the taxpayer ends up with covering the cost.
  • It costs considerably more to recycle plastics than it does to recycle other materials such as glass or aluminum.
  • In most cases if plastic is contaminated with food or beverage residue it will not be recycled and will be sent to landfill.
  • Recycling plastics is quite expensive compared to the low cost of cheap virgin plastic materials.
  • Because of the high cost of recycling and low demand for recycled plastic some municipalities have stopped collecting certain types of plastic altogether.
  • Historically Canada has exported a lot of plastic waste outside of Canada to be ‘recycled’ but there is no guarantee that it will actually be once it leaves our borders. Additionally countries like China and Malaysia are no longer accepting plastic waste putting the viability of the international plastic waste market into question.
  • Plastic is down cycled into lower and lower quality products until it can no longer be recycled and is sent to landfill. Glass and aluminum on the other hand can be recycled into the same materials indefinitely
  • Plastics are everywhere and they never go away. Instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces that enter our water supply and are consumed by wildlife Micro-plastics have been found in water, beer, honey, seafood and even the air we breathe “Once created and discarded, large pieces of plastic break down into smaller and smaller microplastics that last for centuries. Massive amounts of plastic waste are endangering our oceans – the Earth’s largest life support system.”

To truly tackle the problem we must reduce overall plastic use. The more plastic we use, the more we throw away. The only solution is to cut it off at the source through national plastic reduction initiatives.

“This is the time for Canada to shine,” Elmslie says. “We are encouraged to see some corporate innovation happening with more companies going plastic-free. We can turn this around. COVID has taught us how quickly we are capable of adapting.”

To put a halt to the plastic disaster, Oceana Canada is calling on governments and businesses to:

  • Refuse: Deliver on the commitment to ban all unnecessary single-use plastics in Canada by 2021.
  • Reduce: Starting now: municipalities, universities, public institutions and businesses should provide plastic-free options.
  • Reuse: Support policies and infrastructures to reuse plastics, including refilling beverage containers.
  • Rethink: Stop the export of plastic waste to developing countries either directly or indirectly and promote reduction-based solutions internationally.
“We are encouraging all Canadians to keep our government on top of protecting our oceans and our lives by building a future without plastic pollution” Elmslie concludes.

Go to Oceana Canada Video

To sign the petition, go to:


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