Canada announced Wednesday it will ban single-use plastic items – checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and even foodware made from hard-to-recycle plastics – nationwide by the end of 2021.
Canada joins a growing list of countries using bans to confront the problem of excess waste that often ends up littering oceans, lakes and other waterways.
China announced plans earlier this year to phase out most single-use plastics, including plastic bags and straws, by 2025, becoming the largest country to commit to such measures.
The European Union has also vowed to ban single-use plastic cutlery, cotton swabs, straws and stir sticks by 2021. The list also covers single-use polystyrene cups and those made of oxo-degradable plastics, which fragment into small pieces.
The EU commitment requires member states to introduce measures to reduce the use of plastic food containers and plastic lids for hot drinks. It calls for plastic water bottles to be made of 25 per cent recycled content by 2025 and that by 2029, 90 per cent should be recycled.
The United Kingdom has made a similar plastics ban commitment and has targeted 2042 to end needless plastic waste.
Some jurisdictions in the Middle East and Africa are promoting oxo-degradable plastics or even making them mandatory. But it has been shown that the plastic does not biodegrade, but simply breaks down into fragments and then further into troublesome microplastics that pollute air, soil and water.
The strictest ban is believed to be in Kenya, where producing, selling or even using plastic bags can net up to four years in jail or a fine of more than $50,000 CAD.
Some Canadian jurisdictions already have their own bans in place. Prince Edward Island became the first province to ban plastic bags outright, followed by Newfoundland. Tofino and Ucluelet in B.C. have enacted bans on plastic bags and straws. Vancouver has approved a ban on plastic straws and will enact a plastic bag ban by 2021. Victoria has already banned plastic bags, along with Montreal.
During the pandemic, plastic bags became commonplace as many grocery stores refused to allow reusable bags in stores due to safety concerns. The federal government’s plan to ban plastics was delayed due to the pandemic.