Promises are nice, but laws are better. Canada needs a stronger ban on single-use plastics. | Oceana Canada

Last week we welcomed a new group to the anti-plastic-pollution party. According to its website, the Canada Plastics Pact “brings together businesses, policymakers, associations and NGOs, behind a shared vision of a circular economy for plastic, in which plastics stay in the economy and out of the environment.” Sounds promising, right? Our hope is that these efforts will meaningfully reduce the amount of plastic that is produced and thrown away.

Every year 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste is discarded in Canada, and more than 90 per cent of it ends up in landfills, incinerators and the environment. There’s plastic in the water we drink, the seafood we eat and even in the air we breathe. And while we might not know for sure how this plastic is affecting our health, we do know that plastic is wreaking havoc on ocean ecosystems.

Countless creatures die because they eat or become entangled in plastic. A recent Oceana report shows that in the U.S. alone nearly 1,800 animals from 40 different species have swallowed or become entangled in plastic since 2009. Of those, a staggering 88 per cent were species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Clearly, we need all hands on deck if we’re going stop the fatal flow of plastic into our life-sustaining oceans.

It’s always great to see companies with huge plastic footprints – like Coca-Cola and Unilever – acknowledge that the plastic pollution disaster is one of the most pressing issues of our time. We’re encouraged when these companies declare their commitment to eliminating plastic waste and challenge other companies to follow suit. But it’s important to note that the Canada Plastics Pact is a completely voluntary initiative with voluntary commitments. And voluntary action should never be used to delay or block legislative action.

If anything, voluntary action should beget legislative action. Big business is here telling us they want to do the right thing. So, let’s level the playing field and put the legislative guardrails in place to ensure a plastic pollution-free future. Now, more than ever, Canada needs to ban harmful and unnecessary single-use plastics – the kinds of items commonly found littered along our shorelines and wrapped around or inside majestic sea creatures.

The good news is that Canada has already proposed a ban on six single-use plastic items: straws, check-out bags, coffee stirrers, six-pack rings, cutlery and some takeout containers made from problematic plastics. And it has committed to having the ban in place by the end of the year. But considering the volume of plastic we produce in Canada – more than 4.6 million tonnes a year– the ban doesn’t go far enough.

A ban on just six items is a drop in the bucket for an ocean drowning in single-use plastic trash. Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has said the ban covers only “a fraction of one per cent” of the plastic products we use. With 22,000 tonnes of plastic entering our oceans every day – roughly equivalent to dumping a garbage truck’s worth of plastic into our oceans every minute – we urgently need to do better.

That’s why we’re calling on the federal government to lead the global fight to #EndthePlasticDisaster, starting with an expanded ban on single-use plastics that includes:

  1. More items that are commonly found littered in the environment – like coffee cups and cigarette filters;
  2. Items that other jurisdictions have already banned, like lightweight produce bags and plastic egg cartons; and
  3. Materials and resins that are particularly problematic in the environment (like oxo-degradable plastics) or that contain toxic chemicals (like PVC and all forms of polystyrene).

Help us keep the pressure on the government by adding your voice here.