Column: Keeping plastic pollution out of our waters

Canada has one of the longest coastlines in the world. However, unlike many other developed nations, we have lacked a national policy to prevent plastics from entering our country’s waters, and we have no mechanisms in place to clean up the pollution that already exists.

Single-use plastics have become a part of everyday life, and 95 per cent of single-use plastics, such as coffee lids, plastic bags, and plastic drinking straws, are used once and discarded. For years individuals have ignored the flow of plastics into our oceans and waterways. Over time we have come to understand how damaging this is to the health and well-being of our wildlife, sensitive ecosystems, and communities. We have been warned that globally, if this practice goes unchanged, it is projected that by 2050 plastics in our oceans will outweigh fish.

I am proud to announce that on Dec. 5, 2018 my NDP colleague MP Gord Johns’ (Courtenay-Alberni) Private Member’s Motion to combat marine plastics pollution was passed unanimously in the House of Commons. All parties agreed we need to work together to create a national framework for the reduction and eventual elimination of plastic pollution in our aquatic environments.

MP Johns was inspired to act after the Hanjin Marine Debris Spill in November of 2016, when 35 shipping containers broke apart and washed up onto the beaches of the west coast of Vancouver Island. It was volunteers who were left to clean up the mess because of the legislative and regulatory void related to marine plastic pollution in Canada.

This incident drew attention to a problem that is much bigger than this one accident. In Canada, in 2014, it was estimated that only 11 per cent of plastic was recycled and that 8,000 kilograms of our own plastic waste ends up as marine litter every year. Globally, each year more than 20 million tons of debris enters the world’s oceans.

This motion promises to create a permanent, dedicated, and annual funding for community led clean-up projects. It will also reduce consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics. It will create a plan to clean-up derelict fishing gear, as well as promote education and outreach campaigns on the root causes and negative environmental effects of plastic pollution.

The motion draws from recommendations published by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre in 2017 and was supported by the Union of BC Municipalities, the Federation of BC Municipalities, and West Coast Environmental Law Association, among other organizations.

The unanimous passage of this motion is a tremendous victory for our oceans and coastal communities. I am proud Canada will finally be joining the 40 other counties around the world that have already created strategies to curb plastic use and protect our precious environment for future generations.