Ottawa launches online public consultation on plastic waste

Government says more than 150 million tonnes of plastic is clogging the world’s oceans

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna launched a public consultation on plastic garbage Sunday as Ottawa tries to develop a national strategy to cut back on how much plastic Canadians use and toss away.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to get other G7 nations to sign a zero plastics waste charter at the G7 leaders meeting this June in Charlevoix, Que., but Canada doesn't yet have a handle on what it wants to do about the problem domestically.

McKenna used Earth Day on Sunday to announce a public online consultation to help pinpoint ways for the country to eliminate plastic waste and reduce marine litter.

"We want to hear from Canadians about how we tackle pollution and waste," she said.

"It's not just cleaning up after the fact: it's actually being thoughtful about how we reduce, how we recycle, how we compost"

According to the federal government, more than 150 million tonnes of plastic waste is clogging the oceans worldwide. It's estimated that plastic could outweigh fish by 2050.

Greenpeace Canada also used Earth Day Sunday to kick off a national campaign with a tool kit to help Canadians find ways to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. The organization said Canadians generated about 3.25 million tonnes of plastic garbage each year, which they said could fill 140,000 garbage trucks. The campaign includes encouraging people to take their complaints about plastic-covered produce and overly wrapped food products to the manager at their local grocery store, write letters to the editor and lobby local politicians to enact anti-plastics policies.

READ: The U.K.’s war on plastic

Trudeau caught some heat from Greenpeace last week when he wouldn't agree to a ban on plastic drinking straws, something British Prime Minister Theresa May is enacting in the United Kingdom. The U.K. already saw a drastic drop in the use of plastic grocery bags when it started charging people for them in October 2015.

READ: The ongoing battle to ban plastic bags

Many other countries, including Taiwan, Kenya, Rwanda, Italy and France, have enacted bans or limits on plastic grocery bags and straws. Even Queen Elizabeth is on board, banning single-use plastics entirely from royal residences and cafes.

McKenna, however, told The Canadian Press Sunday that Canada is a federation, and has to work with provinces and municipalities, where the jurisdiction for most garbage-related matters lies.

"It's a very complex issue, and it's not just about plastic straws," McKenna said.

Louie Porta, vice-president of operations and projects for Oceans North, said garbage in the ocean could work its way up the food chain as bigger marine animals eat smaller ones that may have eaten plastic.

It can also contaminate the water and create health risks for people.

"The environment doesn't know how to process plastic and waste. All of the waste going into the ocean isn't coming back out," said Porta. "We need to stem the tide of the waste going into the ocean."


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