Zero plastic waste: the need for action

Plastic is a valuable material and resource because of its unrivalled functionality, durability and low cost. We use plastics in almost all aspects of our lives. In Canada, plastic production is a $35 billion industry employing close to 100,000 people in nearly 2,000 businesses that make and recycle plastic products.

Yet every year Canadians throw away over 3 million tonnes of plastic waste from our homes and businesses. Almost half of that is packaging. The rest comes from sectors like construction, textiles, agriculture, automotive and electronics.

The way we currently use and manage plastics affects our ecosystems and wildlife, and burdens our economy. It is time to shift towards a more resource efficient and circular economy for plastics.

Protecting our environment from marine litter

Marine litter is solid waste that has been discarded, disposed of or littered into the environment, including our freshwater and marine ecosystems. Most of it - about 80% to 90% - is plastic. It comes in all shapes and sizes including microplastics – small plastic particles less than or equal to 5mm in size - and consists of items like fishing gear and packaging.

In 2016, about 29,000 tonnes of plastic waste was littered into our environment in Canada – that is as heavy as almost 300 Blue Whales! Close to 10,000 tonnes of plastics enter the Great Lakes every year from Canada and the United States. Litter that you see on the sidewalk can be blown into a river or lake, or go down the storm drain and end up in the ocean.  Marine litter can have many affects. It can transfer contaminants, damage habitats, impact fisheries or seriously harm wildlife if it is ingested or they become entangled in it.

Over the last 25 years, nearly 800,000 volunteers have removed over 1.3 million kilograms of trash from across Canada’s shorelines through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. The most commonly littered items on our shorelines are single-use or short-lived products, many containing plastics such as:

Building a circular economy

Currently the way we manage plastics is based on a “take-make-waste” model - we extract resources, we make products and then we throw them away. If current trends continue, the plastics thrown away in Canada will be worth $11 billion by 2030.

In a circular economy, the lifecycle of materials and products is extended as long as possible. It follows a “make-use-return” model so that materials and products are reused, repaired, re-manufactured or recycled. By creating a circular economy for plastics, we could:

Our vision is a zero plastic waste future where plastics stay in the economy and out of landfills and the environment.

Related links

Economic study of the Canadian plastic industry, markets and waste

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

Toward zero plastic waste

Canada’s actions on plastic waste

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