Updated: Apr 25
While COVID has boosted our use of single-use plastics even further with take-out containers, cutlery, and PPE (masks and gloves), it seems that the both the Federal and Provincial governments are trying to reduce our growing pile of plastic.
According this news source:
Announcing plans to reach zero plastic waste by 2030, the federal government's website noted that "every year, Canadians throw away 3 million tonnes of plastic waste, only 9% of which is recycled, meaning the vast majority of plastics end up in landfills." (from the CBC)
But guess what didn’t make the list?
Items included in the ban (source):
Beverage six-pack rings
Food packaging made from plastics that are difficult to recycle
Items not included in the ban:
Snack food wrappers
Disposable personal care items and their packaging
Beverage containers and lids
Contact lenses and packaging
Items used in medical facilities
Personal protective equipment
If you like, add your name and voice to this petition to include single use plastic water bottles in the Canada plastics ban.
Just days after this Federal announcement, the Ontario government revealed it's also rethinking its approach to recycling.
If passed, the government estimates the proposed regulatory changes will see municipalities save $135 million annually as producers take over the blue box program.
But Calvin Lakhan, a York University researcher and an expert in Ontario's recycling program, says Ontarians shouldn't expect companies to absorb the added cost. By his analysis, the change will see the average grocery bill in province go up between $40 and $50 a month.
"It's really a matter of producers recouping the cost by passing it on to consumers," Lakhan told CBC Toronto. He expects the cost of packaged items to increase anywhere from 6 to 12 per cent under the proposed changes. (from this article)
In fact, the Ontario plan is EXPANDING the number of items that can be 'recycled' which is out of sync with the Federal plan. Ontario will start collecting straws, cutlery, stir sticks, and bags -- all of which the Federal government plans on phasing out of the Canadian waste stream.
The logic of these moves fails economics and ecology and here is why.
The only reason we are even seeing changes to our recycling habits is because we've been shipping our bins to Asia for over a decade and now countries like China are saying "no more". While some blue bin materials can be sold, much of what we collectively put into the bin is dirty, not sorted, and expensive to recycle. Much of it is landfilled or burned overseas or here at home.
So much for being green. How did this happen?
For 30 years the plastics and fossil fuel industries have convinced governments and the people that we could have it all. We could have the convenience and appeal of plastic, while recycling it into new and useful goods.
According to this investigative journalist who spoke on CBC's The Current, the industries who benefited from us using plastic created this myth of the circular waste economy.
The reporter states:
"the economics don't work now any more than they did 30 years ago."
"It is still cheaper to use virgin oil fresh out of the ground to make plastic than it is to use plastic trash to make plastic," she said. "No matter what the industry has done, no matter what they have funded, no matter what expensive recycling machines that never made any economic sense ... they cannot get around this fundamental problem."
There are projects that are looking more critically at this issue -- like the CLEAR project.
"Recycling is like a Band-Aid on gangrene," says Dr. Max Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) in Newfoundland. “The only mode of attack is to deal with a heavy decrease in the production of plastics, as opposed to dealing with them after they’ve already been created." Dr. Liboiron's research on microplastics interrogates the scientific method with feminist and anti-colonialist methodology.
An insightful 12 minute video about plastics research:
There are many critical questions we can be asking on this issue:
Why can't we talk about which plastics are more or less essential and start reducing our plastic use?
Why does our waste management system depend on the needs of the plastic and fossil fuel industries?
Why are virgin materials so cheap and would they be this cheap if we included the social and ecological costs of extracting them?
Why can't the Federal and Provincial recycling rules be in sync?
Can hyper-consumerism be compatible with producing less plastic waste?
What do you think? Beyond individual consumer choices, what needs to happen to drastically reduce our use of plastic?
If we organized a joint online screening of The Story of Plastic, would you watch? Here's the trailer to this newly released documentary.
By Paul Baines