In the 1967 film The Graduate, the question of where the future lay for an ambitious young man was summed up in a single, memorable word: “Plastics.”
Half a century later, the planet is awash in the stuff. The world dumps more than eight-million tonnes of plastic into the ocean each year, according to a 2015 study published in Science. And while much has been made of the Great Pacific garbage patch, plastic refuse is also choking cities, most notably in India.
Now Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom are taking steps to relegate our reliance on plastic to the past. Last week, they signed the G7’s Plastic Charter, an agreement to reduce the use of single-use plastic containers, and to develop sustainable alternatives.
It is appropriate the deal was signed in Canada, because we are the largest per capita producer of garbage among the signatories and the 26th most wasteful nation in the world, according to Waste Management World magazine, which ranks the United States 22nd.
Canadians consume 2.4-billion litres of bottled water annually, according to market research firm Euromonitor, in addition to the billions of single-use plastic straws, cups and food packages we go through.
The G7 agreement has shortcomings – it’s non-binding, and the United States and Japan didn’t sign it – but it is still a positive step. More can be done, though.
In Canada, recycling and waste policy are typically questions of ad hoc arrangements between provinces and cities.
It would help if Ottawa took a leadership role in establishing a national regime that put some of the onus for recovering recyclable materials on businesses that make, package and sell goods involving plastic.
Several provinces have embraced some version of so-called “extended producer regulations,” British Columbia having gone the farthest.
Canada could also make it illegal to export our recycled plastic. The sight of mountains of crushed water bottles rising here – rather than in unseen, mostly Asian locales – might well be more effective at reducing our over-reliance on plastics than any international agreement.