Canadians appear to be slowly reducing their use of straws and plastic grocery bags ahead of a nationwide ban on these items taking effect next month, according to new statistics.
The Canadian government is seeking to reduce indoor plastic pollution by the end of the decade as negotiations for a formal plastics management treaty begin this week in Uruguay.
Canada is one of nearly three dozen countries pushing for an international agreement that would end global plastic pollution by 2040.
“That’s enough,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a tweet.
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About 22 million tonnes of plastic ends up where it shouldn’t every year, including in lakes, rivers and oceans around the world, he said. In Canada, approximately 29,000 tonnes of plastic waste, mostly packaging, ends up in the environment each year.
An additional 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in landfills. Less than a tenth of the plastic Canadians throw away is actually recycled.
In a bid to reduce all plastic waste, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in 2019 that certain single-use plastics would be banned by 2021. It took the government a year longer than expected to work out which items to ban and how do it.
The final rule was released in June and, as of December 20, it will no longer be legal in Canada to manufacture or import most plastic bags or straws, as well as stir sticks, cutlery and take-out containers. A year later, the sale of these items will also be prohibited.
The manufacture and import of six-pack plastic beverage container rings will be banned in June 2023, with their sale ending a year later.
The six single-use items the government is starting with meet two criteria: they are commonly found polluting in nature and they can be replaced with alternatives already available.
Prior to the ban, some Canadian retailers proactively moved away from single-use items, with grocers like Sobeys eliminating plastic carrier bags and many restaurants replacing plastic straws with paper versions.
There are warning signs that the use of certain plastic items is already declining.
A Statistics Canada household and environment survey conducted every two years found that between 2019 and 2021, the number of Canadians who regularly used plastic straws decreased slightly, and the number of Canadians who remembered more regularly to bring reusable bags when shopping has increased.
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In 2019, 23% of Canadians reported using at least one plastic straw per week, a number that dropped to 20% two years later. Manitoba is the only province to buck this trend, with 29% of respondents using at least one straw per week in 2021, up from 26% in 2019.
Quebec residents used straws the least, with 16% reporting using at least one a week in 2021, a number almost unchanged from 2019.
Statistics Canada said that in 2021, 97% of Canadians used their own reusable bags or containers when shopping for groceries, a slight increase from 96% in 2019. But the number who said they used them always fell from 43% in 2019 to 51% in 2021.
The end of single-use shopping bags could have the biggest effect in Saskatchewan, where fewer than two in five respondents remembered their own bags or bins on every shopping trip in 2021, though that proportion is up from to less than a third two years earlier.
In Quebec, more than two-thirds of people said they always use their own bags or trash cans to shop, a slight increase from three in five in 2019.
Canada is consulting to develop national standards for plastic products to make it easier to recycle. The country’s low recycling rates are partly attributed to the fact that a wide variety of plastics are used, which is difficult for recycling facilities to manage.
Canada is one of the most wasteful countries in the world. World Bank data on municipal solid waste shows that, on average, each Canadian throws away 706 kilograms of waste each year.
Among the G7 countries, that’s higher than anywhere but the United States, which throws out 812 kilograms per person each year. In Germany the average is 609 kilograms, in France 548 kilograms, in Italy 499 kilograms, in the United Kingdom 463 kilograms and in Japan 399 kilograms.
When factoring in industrial, electronic and commercial waste, Canada ranks number one internationally, producing more than 36 tonnes of waste per person per year.
© 2022 The Canadian Press