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November 2, 2023

Solutions, not pollution: Roadmap to cut 1/3 of Canada’s single-use plastic

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Credit: Nariman Mesharrafa/Unsplash


We all know that plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing our oceans and our planet. In fact, according to the United Nations, it is the second most urgent environmental threat behind climate change, and the two are intrinsically connected. 

Plastic is everywhere. It’s on beaches, in the rain and the deepest parts of the ocean, the air we breathe and the food we eat. Tens of thousands of marine animals have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of plastic – from zooplankton to fish and whales. Plastic even works its way into our food chain and has been found in human blood, lung tissue and passing through placentas to unborn babies.  

Enough is enough. It’s time for solutions. 

A roadmap to cut 1/3 of Canada’s single-use plastic 

In a report released today, Breaking the Plastic Cycle, Oceana Canada unveils a federal policy roadmap outlining how Canada can reduce single-use plastic each year by one-third, or 720,000 tonnes. That’s equivalent to the size of 6,000 blue whales! 

The roadmap focuses on single-use plastic packaging, which accounts for about half of Canada’s plastic waste, finding that despite population growth and associated demand, a significant reduction is possible using policy tools that already exist. If the government implements the report’s recommendations, Canada could cap single-use plastic waste by 2026 and then proceed on a downward trajectory, known as “peak plastic.” 

In 2022, the government took the first step to address the plastic problem by banning six categories of unnecessary single-use plastics and committing to improving recycled content in new products. This was an exciting and important step, but not enough to seriously tackle the plastic problem.  

If the government follows the recommendations laid out in our report, Canada can prevent the generation of nine million tonnes of plastic waste by 2040. 

Oceana Canada’s recommendations 

Through ambitious, sector-wide action, Canada can reduce plastic waste and become a global leader on the path to a plastic-free future. 

Oceana Canada’s recommendations highlight that the government’s two most powerful policy tools are: (1) implementing bans on unnecessary and hard-to-recycle items and (2) pollution prevention (P2) plans that cooperatively work with industries to establish sector-wide plastic reduction objectives, refill and reuse systems, and actual recycling targets. The roadmap identifies the seven sectors that are the greatest sources of single-use plastic, collectively generating 41 per cent of plastic packaging waste in Canada, with the following actions recommended for these sectors: 

  1. Grocery stores can reduce plastic waste by 45 per cent by 2040 with a P2 plan calling for a reduction in single-use plastic generation by way of unwrapping products, bringing back refill systems and removing all non-recyclable packaging from stores. Where plastic persists, stores must prove it was recycled at a rate of at least 75 per cent.   
  1. Beverage bottles: This sector can be modernized by phasing in reuse requirements and building on well-established deposit return systems that already exist for alcoholic beverages across the country, resulting in 70 per cent of bottles being refillable and reusable by 2040. 
  1. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polystyrene (PS): Notoriously known as the non-recyclable plastic, a 100 per cent distribution ban is needed and a shift to non-plastic or highly recyclable materials.  
  1. Dine-out foodservice: This sector can reduce plastic waste by one hundred per cent with full implementation of a P2 plan that brings major restaurants and food couriers together nationally to phase out non-recyclable takeout containers and introduce reusable containers via small reuse companies already in place in cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. This uplifts Canadian businesses and establishes a zero-waste sector. 
  1. Pallet wrap: This can be reduced by 90 per cent by 2040, spurring innovation in the sector, including reusable binding techniques such as nets and bins instead of single-use films.  
  1. Dine-in food service: This sector can reduce plastic waste by 100 per cent with a distribution ban where establishments must provide reusable cups, glasses, plates and ramekins when customers dine in.   
  1. E-commerce: E-commerce can be zero-plastic waste using a combination of bans and strong P2 plans calling for the removal of single-use plastic. Goodbye to air pillows and packing peanuts. 

Ultimately, urgent action is needed to address the challenges caused by plastic. We know the solutions, now it’s time for the government to implement them. 

Read the full report and learn how Canada can make a measurable difference in the plastic crisis >>