We’ve all heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of plastic pollution between California and Hawaii that is three times the size of France. I was surprised to learn that it is only one of five huge concentrations of plastic in the world’s oceans.
The United Nations’ Environment Programme estimates more than 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute. About 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating on the oceans’ surface, mostly as fragments that end up in the guts of albatrosses, sea turtles, plankton, fish, and whales. But almost half of the pieces sink, snowing into the deepest parts of the ocean and upon the creatures that live there. A recent study of crustaceans living 11 kilometres below the ocean found plastic in the guts of all the specimens examined.
Unfortunately, the UN Environment Assembly recently failed to pass an internationally binding agreement for the end to single-use plastics by 2025. India, Norway, Japan and Sri Lanka had all put forward proposals for strong coordinated action against plastic litter and microplastics, but the proposals were opposed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.
The NDP is working hard on several fronts to reduce the use of plastics in Canada. Last December, my colleague Gord Johns put forward a motion calling for a national framework for the reduction and eventual elimination of plastic pollution in aquatic environments. MPs unanimously supported the motion. The federal NDP followed that up with a strategy to end single-use plastics by 2022.
In the last parliament, an NDP motion resulted in Canada banning micro-plastic particles. Also known as micro-beads, these particles can have serious negative effects on aquatic life, from tiny zooplankton to fish.
Most Canadians understand that plastic pollution is a growing threat to ecosystems and human health. A plastic straw or shopping bag might only be used for a few minutes or hours, but it will long outlive us as garbage in the environment.
There are many things we can all do to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic, including:
• using a refillable metal water bottle,
• at restaurants tell your server you don’t want a plastic straw
• using aluminium foil or wax-paper to wrap food;
• washing out resealable bags for reuse;
• taking re-usable bags to the grocery store.
Many of my suggestions above would not seem strange to folks just 60 or 70 years ago, showing how plastic has become totally ingrained in our culture in only a few decades. More plastic has been made since the year 2000 than before, and about three quarters of it has become waste. It is past time for Canada to step up and face the crisis of plastic pollution. We need to change our ways.
Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay