Canadians will soon have to pack reusable bags to the grocery store or use alternatives like paper bags, and will be grabbing their takeout food and coffee in more environmentally friendly containers after the federal government announced plans Monday (June 20) to ban a number of single-use plastics.
A ban on both the manufacture and import of several single-use plastics will come into effect in December 2022, the federal Minister of Environment Steven Guilbeault announced. The ban will include single-use plastic shopping bags, plastic cutlery, food containers, ring carriers, stir sticks and straws. A ban on the sale of those items will come into effect in December 2023. A ban on the export of those plastics comes into effect by the end of 2025.
Patrick Weiler, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country highlighted the reasons for the plastics ban at an announcement at the federal Pacific Enterprise Science Centre in West Vancouver.
The centre, on the shores of Burrard Inlet, has been at the forefront of studying the impacts of plastics in the marine environment.
According to the government, the ban will result in the elimination of an estimated 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and over 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution over the next decade.
Weiler said scientific evidence confirms plastic pollution is pervasive in the environment, and single-use plastics like grocery bags make up most of the plastic litter found on shorelines across country.
Weiler said the vast majority of people are already using reusable bags when they make trips to the store. Eliminating plastic straws – which can become stuck in the bodies of marine life like turtles – is a change that can have a huge difference on the health of marine mammals and humans, said Weiler.
Laura Hardman, director of the Plastic Free Oceans initiative at Ocean Wise, said plastics like shopping bags and straws, coffee cups and lids and other food containers make up a significant amount of plastic garbage retrieved in shoreline clean-up efforts every year.
In the past two years, as the COVID-19 pandemic influenced people’s habits, the amount of plastic pollution went up, said Hardman. Those plastics can result in marine animals becoming entangled or block their digestive systems or have toxic effects at a cellular level, said Hardman.
“So we know, for example, that we're finding plastics and microplastics in drinking water, food, and now in our own bodies,“ she said.
Weiler said while plastics will still make it into the ocean from other countries, “this is an issue that requires international co-operation.... If we want to encourage other countries to take action, we need to show that we’re doing it ourselves.”
Weiler acknowledged there will be an increased cost for businesses to put the changes in place, adding the government anticipates that will add up to $5 per person across the country.
But there will also be business opportunities in developing alternative products, he said.
There will be an exemption allowing plastic straws to be used in medical settings and for people with disabilities who require them, according to the government.
Ottawa is also working on regulations that will prevent the use of a recycling symbol on plastics unless at least 80 per cent of recycling facilities accept them and they have reliable end markets.
A number of retailers have already eliminated single-use plastic bags at checkouts, or are in the process of doing that. Many fast food outlets have also replaced plastic straws with paper ones and plastic stir sticks with wooden versions.