Two NDP MPs convened a plastics waste roundtable in Cranbrook, as local residents got the chance to discuss the problem and hear about proposals pitched in a private members bill.
Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski was joined by his NDP colleague in Nathan Cullen, the MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who spoke about the challenges of legislating solutions to reducing plastic wastes.
Cullen recently introduced the Zero Waste Packaging Act (Bill C-429) to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act that aims to reduce plastic packaging material by shifting packaging material from plastics to other substances such as paper or glass.
“It’s not easy, but it’s the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to the plastics waste crisis,” said Cullen. “[It’s] 40 per cent of the problem, 90 per cent of it not getting recycled, costing us part of the $3 billion landfill problem we pay for every year in Canada.”
The roundtable included a discussion on how legislation passes through the committee stage at the House of Commons before moving on to the Senate.
Stetski, who serves as vice chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, noted a report recently analyzed the plastics pollution problem in Canada and recommended some solutions.
The study found that Canada generated 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2016. Of that, 86 per cent ended up in landfills, four per cent was burned for energy and one per cent — 29,00 tonnes — was littered into the environment.
Only nine per cent was recycled.
Some of report recommendations included developing targets to set a goal of zero plastic waste by 2030, require plastics to be made from 50 per cent recycled material by the same time frame, and prohibiting any plastic waste exports to foreign landfills.
“It starts with simple steps, and it starts a lot of the times with education and that’s what these round tables are meant to do,” said Stetski, “is to educate people on where things are at, what some of the possible solutions are and them get them to help us develop some of those solutions, which is what makes them exciting.”
The report noted that plastics pollution harms wildlife and that microplastics are being inadvertently consumed through seafood, drinking water and sea salt.
Some of the roundtable participants drew a comparison to the length of time for both society and tobacco companies to respond to the health consequences from smoking and second hand smoke.
“If you look at past successes when we’ve had changes for the better, we’ve had to make multiple appeals,” said Cullen. “Economic, social and in some particular cases, in health, so that’s really good to find out what the reality is here for people and what the hopes are.”
Industry needs to sit up and take notice of the societal shift on plastic pollution, Stetski said.
Cullen added that the onus of reducing plastic pollution lies on both consumers and government.
“We always talk about the role of government, the role of the individual consumer, and I think this is one that solidly hits both,” Cullen said. “That people have to make better choices to have a cleaner planet, not leave a mess for our kids, yet the people we send to office need to put in better legislation and let government do it’s job, which is make those solutions easier and possible.”