MANITOULIN – Global plastic production has reached about 100 million tonnes annually and continues to grow. Plastic is both durable and cheap but long-term impacts include clogging our landfills, threatening aquatic life and acceleration of climate change. Plastic can persist in the environment for 400 years or more and contributes greenhouse gases emissions to our warming world at every step of its lifecycle.
A 2019 report by the Center for International Environmental Law concluded that the impact of plastic production of the world’s climate would equate to the output of 189 coal powered stations in 2019, by 2050, plastic production would be responsible for up to 13 percent of the earth’s total carbon budget, similar to the output of 615 power stations.
Most plastic is derived from materials such as ethylene and propylene that are made from fossil fuels. The extraction and transportation of those fuels followed by the manufacturing process means plastic creates billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases. According to World Wildlife Federation, four percent of the world’s annual petroleum production is diverted to making plastic with another four percent burned during refining.
More than one-third of the plastic that has been manufactured in Canada is discarded after a single use. Canadians use almost 15 billion plastic bags every year and close to 57 million straws every day. Oceana Canada reported that Canadians produce an estimated 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, with 2.8 million tonnes ending up in Canadian landfills (the equivalent weight of 24 CN towers, every year). Only nine percent of Canada’s plastic waste is recycled. The rest ends up in the landfills or is burned to create energy, which creates additional emissions.
Governments are taking action. Ontario’s Bill 82, Single-Use Plastics Ban Act, 2019 has passed first reading. The Bill amends the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016 and will call for the immediate reduction and eventual elimination of the distribution and supply of single use plastics in Ontario and will require the immediate elimination of some single use plastics including straws and drink stirrers, expanded polystyrene foam food and beverage containers, plastic bags, disposable coffee cups and single use plastic water bottles.
The federal government has introduced the Zero Plastic Waste Initiative as part of its overall plan to protect nature and fight climate change, according to Samantha Bayard, spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada. The manufacture, import and sale of all toiletries containing plastic microbeads was prohibited as of July 1, 2019 and the government has adopted a zero plastic waste target for 2030.
The plan, said Ms. Bayard, includes working with provinces, territories and stakeholders to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment. “Actions by individuals, communities and industries can also make a big difference,” she said.
Reducing single use plastic waste can be as easy as using reusable shopping bags, refusing plastic produce bags, using stainless steel travel mugs or water bottles and using a water filter rather than purchasing bottled water.