MRO Magazine

Canada needs to put an end to polluting plastic: group

November 26, 2023 | By John Chilibeck

Carl Duivenvoorden’s pet peeve is bottled water.

The sustainability consultant from Hanwell is irked every time he sees a vending machine with the product, sometimes right next to a water fountain.

“Maybe it’s just the Dutch in me when I’m thinking, `why would you spend money on imported water in a plastic container when there is local water right beside it that is probably better’?” he said. “We here in New Brunswick have lovely water, a beautiful natural resource and it’s usually as close as the nearest tap or water fountain. So I’m baffled as to why we need to sip from a plastic bottle that one, probably came from away, two, costs us money and, three, is packaged in plastic.”

The problem of excess plastic is met head on in a new report released by Oceana Canada, the world’s largest conservation organization dedicated to preserving the seas.


The group applauds the Trudeau Liberal government for deciding to phase out several single-use plastic items over two years. Ottawa plans to prohibit the sale of plastic checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks and straws by Dec. 20, although a recent federal court challenge by the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition and several chemical companies that manufacture plastics might impact the timeline.

But the environmental group wants the government to get rid of plastic manufacturing even faster.

The report provides a policy roadmap to eliminate one-third of Canada’s plastic packaging waste within a decade, giving industry and consumers time to adapt.

“Plastic pollution is one of the largest problems facing our environment, especially the oceans,” said Anthony Merante, plastics campaigner for Oceana Canada, in an interview from Toronto. “The United Nations notes it as the second most important environmental crisis, just behind climate change, and those two are interlinked to each other. You see whales washed up on the shore, their stomachs full of plastic, seabirds entangled in six-pack rings or nets and a lot of our fish are contaminated with plastic pollution. So if you want to have a healthy ocean, one that we can harvest and have a sustainable fishery for the world, plastic pollution must stop.”

Plastic pollution everywhere

Canada produces about 2.3 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste a year, and most of it can’t be recycled. The plastic is often used just once, for minutes, but can last centuries because it persists, even in tiny pieces, whether it’s landfilled or released in the wider environment. By reducing one-third of that waste, Oceana says more than 730,000 tonnes would be eliminated – the size of 6,000 blue whales. It wants Ottawa to remove plastics from key sectors: grocery stores, beverage bottlers, e-commerce, non-recyclable plastic packaging, pallet wrap, hospitality and catering.

Climate change and plastic are interlinked, Merante says, because plastics at their base are oil products in a hardened form, often kept together with chemical additives. The creation of plastics, in other words, adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, warming the planet and threatening life.

He also raised the threat of microplastics, little bits that are difficult for the eye to see.

“A lot of those plastics that make their way into the ocean, they also make it onto our plates and into our bodies. Much of the world is dependent on fish and seafood as part of daily nutrition. When you put plastics in the ocean, they don’t just stay there. They break down into microplastics, tiny, tiny pieces, even nanoplastics, even smaller, and get ingested by a lot of seafood we love. Shrimp, fish, anything we’re pulling out of the ocean. We’ve found plastic in the deepest parts of the ocean. We’ve found in Arctic sea ice. But we’ve also found microplastics in our blood and deepest part of our lungs. We can also find it in the placenta of an unborn child. So plastic pollution is everywhere.”

Be flexible, says industry

Plastics have been around for more than a century and their popularity stems from being lightweight, durable, flexible, and inexpensive to produce.

And the industry says it would be foolish to get rid of a product that’s become indispensable to so many Canadians.

“Plastics are essential to getting Canada and the world to our climate goals by reducing food waste, insulating homes, making cars lighter and making renewable energy possible,” said

Julie Fortier, a spokesperson for the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada and its plastics division, in an email to Brunswick News. “Due to population growth as well as improved quality of life around the world, global demand for plastic is projected to triple or even quadruple by 2050.”

Fortier agreed that plastics should never be discarded into the environment and that plastics in the environment was a real and very urgent problem that must be stopped.

But banning plastic isn’t the solution, she insisted.

“Banning some items may make consumers feel better about what they are doing at the time, but there are many items in which alternatives contribute even more greenhouse gases to the environment than plastics,” she said. “We need a real solution to manage plastics at their end of life. The entire industry is working towards the goal of a circular economy, so that we can avoid wasting so much plastic that is currently being used once and then thrown into landfills or the environment.”

While less than 10 per cent of plastics are recycled in Canada, she said investment in better technology could help improve the situation. She also pointed to the promise of managing plastics better through extended producer responsibility programs, such as the one New Brunswick moved to just last month. Funded entirely by industry, these recycling programs encourage producers to create more recyclable products and connect industries to recycled materials.

British Columbia led the way on such programs in Canada, and in just four years, it raised its waste plastic recovery rate to 55 per cent in 2021, from 41 per cent.

A persistent problem

Still, Duivenvoorden is unconvinced. For years, he has organized efforts to clean up roadsides in his neighbourhood of Upper Kingsclear near Fredericton and annual beach sweeps in the Bay of Fundy.

He’s saddened by all the plastic he sees littering the place.

“Plastics are versatile and useful to us, but once they get out in the environment, they are a challenge because they persist and pollute for so long,” said Duivenvoorden, who grew up on a family farm in Belledune in northern New Brunswick. “When they get into our waterways, they float and degrade into tiny little bits and then they’re pretty much impossible to capture. They’re everywhere. As soon as you touch it, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and it’s a real hassle to pick up.”

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, THE DAILY GLEANER


Stories continue below

Print this page