Recycling is not the ‘panacea’ saving oceans from plastic at UN conference


Canada has an opportunity to position itself as a leader in tackling the global problem of marine plastics at this week’s conference United Nations Ocean Conferenceexperts say.

However, to bring about real change, Canada and its international partners will need to aggressively wean ourselves off unnecessary plastics and accelerate the development of a global circular economy to ensure that plastic pollution does not end up in the oceans.

“There is no doubt that the world is facing some sort of existential crisis over how best to proceed on the plastics economy front,” said Peter Ross, Senior Scientist and water pollution director at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Big or small, plastics are ingested by virtually every creature in the marine food chain, causing harm to animals from zooplankton to whales, Ross said.

Marine plastic pollution is exacerbating the decline of marine biodiversity, a crisis already aggravated by global warming, with more than 800 marine and coastal species suffering the effects of ingestion, entanglement and absorption of the petroleum product.

Canada too helped secure a international agreement by 175 countries to develop a groundbreaking, legally-binding international plastics treaty by 2024 that aims to cover the full product lifecycle and create a circular plastics economy.

But whether the plastics treaty is truly a watershed moment will depend on political will, Ross said.

“I think it’s good that Canada is positioning itself for some sort of leadership role on the file,” he said.

“But with all the great aspirations of the United Nations Ocean Conference…as we look to the future, the question is how do we have a blue economy?”

To stop the “bandwagon” of corporate vested interests in plastics production, the treaty must include meaningful improvements on the recyclability of plastics and a carrot-and-stick approach to pushing companies to redesign products and find innovations and alternatives in the private sector. , he said.

Further research into effective monitoring of waterways, oceans and wastewater discharges is also needed to identify and address the most important issues, Ross said.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation senior scientist Peter Ross says recycling does not reduce marine plastic pollution. Photo by Alex Harris/Raincoast Conservation Foundation

It’s a myth that recycling plastics will stem ocean pollution

The idea that recycling plastic will reduce the flow of waste into the oceans is a “fiction”, he said.

Plastic products are full of dyes and various chemicals that make them virtually impossible to recycle.

“The reality is that recycling will not be the panacea that will save the global ocean,” he said.

Sarah King, an oceans and plastics activist with Greenpeace Canada, agrees.

The vast majority of plastics in Canada — 87% — end up in landfills or the environment, with the packaging sector alone being the source of almost half of this waste.

At best, Canada only has the ability to recycles 17% of its plastic wasteand the federal elimination of single-use plastics involves a simple three percent of plastic headed to landfills, she said.

“We really need to look at the source of the problem, which is that we’re producing too much of it,” King said.

There must be a concrete reduction in plastic production in Canada and around the world, she said, or plastic pollution will continue to sabotage federal and international commitments to create low-carbon economies.

A Canadian National Observer A survey of the country’s top carbon emitters found that three plastics and petrochemical plants – two in Alberta and one in Ontario – collectively produced about 5.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 .

The fossil fuel industry is betting on plastics and developing its production to ensure its future, green peace affirms. And without radical change, the use of plastics will almost double in Canada and triple globally by 2060, a new A study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows.

Greenpeace Canada oceans and plastics activist Sarah King (pictured in the Philippines) says the international community must set targets for reducing plastic waste. Photo by Daniel Muller/Greenpeace

No country, including Canada, has concrete waste reduction targets, King said.

To meet its net-zero plastic commitment by 2030, the federal government must quickly phase out all non-essential plastics, halt production of single-use plastics, and set deadlines to reduce plastic production in various sectors, it said. she declared.

Canada must quickly accelerate the transition to a reuse and refill economy, moving to systems that don’t rely on single-use plastics to deliver everyday goods and services, she said.

“We need truly zero waste and circular systems,” she said, adding that public investment will be needed to help scale up innovation and infrastructure for the transition.

The federal government has shown leadership in calling for the plastics treaty to be ambitious and legally binding, King said.

But the concern is that Canada is not jumping into international talks, like those underway at the ocean conference in Portugal, prioritizing a phased downsizing of the industry, she said.

The world is working to phase out oil and gas to fight climate change and must do the same for plastics, which are the flip side of the coin, she said.

“They go together,” King said.

“Certainly this is where governments need to come together and agree on a cap and a phase-down of plastic production globally.”

— With files by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada


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