Drowning in Plastic: New Report Shows Canada Contributes Disproportionately to the Global Plastic Disaster - Oceana Canada

Drowning in Plastic: New Report Shows Canada Contributes Disproportionately to the Global Plastic Disaster

Press Release Date: September 28, 2020

Oceana Canada urges government to act now to ban harmful single-use plastics.

OTTAWA – An Oceana Canada report launched today shows that Canada is a plastic nation. The massive amount of plastic waste Canada is generating disproportionately contributes to the global plastic disaster that is choking our oceans and the animals that call them home. The report outlines how the Canadian government can help turn the tide on one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, starting by delivering on its commitment to ban harmful single-use plastics by 2021.

Canada uses 4.6 million metric tonnes of plastics every year — roughly 125 kilograms per person — and that number is predicted to grow to more than six million metric tonnes by 2030. Global comparisons show that Canada produces nine times more plastic waste per person than India, up to 3.6 times more than some countries in Southeast Asia and up to twice that of some Scandinavian countries.

Other highlights from Drowning in Plastic: Ending Canada’s contribution to the global plastic disaster include:

  • Each year, approximately 70 per cent of the plastic we consume – 3.3 million tonnes – is thrown in the trash. Approximately half of that is from single-use packaging.
  • Recycling is not a viable solution. Only nine per cent of plastic has been recycled. Eighty-seven per cent of the plastic waste we think is being recycled, ends up in landfills and the environment.
  • Canada has exported roughly four million tonnes of plastic waste over the last 30 years – the weight of about 800 blue whales worth of plastic per year – mostly to Asian countries that are ill-equipped to handle it and which are now refusing to accept more.

As Canada boasts the world’s longest coastline, touching three oceans, we have a national and global responsibility, and an opportunity, to show leadership and to provide Canadians with what they want: plastic-free choices.

“Canada needs to move away from our current wasteful system where plastic that is made to last forever is created, used once and then immediately disposed of. The current approach – low recycling rates, exporting plastic waste to other countries and shifting responsibility downstream to consumers – is expensive, irresponsible, and inefficient, and doesn’t even scratch the surface of solving this massive problem,” said Kim Elmslie, campaign director at Oceana Canada.

In June 2020, polling by Abacus Data on behalf of Oceana Canada and found that Canadians are overwhelmingly concerned about plastic pollution (87 per cent) and its impact on the environment, and that 86 per cent support a national ban on single-use plastics. When respondents learned that only nine per cent of the plastic ever produced has been recycled, a full 93 per cent were upset, disappointed, angry and/or surprised. To date, more than 100,000 Canadians have signed Oceana Canada’s petition calling on the government to implement the promised ban.

“The plastic disaster won’t end without government leadership. Oceana Canada is calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to create a strong and meaningful ban on single-use plastics by 2021,” said Elmslie. “The Government of Canada has committed to protecting our oceans – taking serious and definitive action to end our country’s contribution to the plastic disaster is a vital part of that plan.”

To put a halt to the plastic disaster, Oceana Canada is calling on governments and businesses to:

1. Refuse: Deliver on the commitment to ban all unnecessary single-use plastics in Canada by 2021.
2. Reduce: Starting now, municipalities, universities, public institutions and businesses should provide plastic-free options.
3. Reuse: Support policies and infrastructures to reuse plastics, including refilling beverage containers.
4. Rethink: Stop the export of plastic waste to developing countries either directly or indirectly and promote reduction-based solutions internationally.



Alexandra Cousteau, explorer and Oceana Senior Advisor: “Like my grandfather, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, I have had the chance to witness first-hand how our oceans are being affected by human activity and how this has changed over time. Today, one of the world’s biggest environmental problems is plastic pollution, which is filling our oceans at an alarming rate and devastating marine life. The Great Pacific garbage patch – discovered the same year my grandfather died – is now three times the size of France.

Canada is in a position to show global leadership to address this. By enacting a national ban on harmful single-use plastics, which make up almost half of all plastic discarded in this country, Canada can make a real difference in ending the plastic pollution crisis. That’s the legacy I’d like us to leave for our planet and for the next generation of ocean explorers.”

Alexandra Weston, DVP, Brand & Creative Strategy, Holt Renfrew: “The world’s oceans connect us all, they sustain life on this planet, they feed us, and we are destroying them. If we want to save this life-sustaining resource, we must solve global plastic pollution.  We cannot solve this individually, we must all work together and support each other.  Holt Renfrew is committed to doing our part by moving away from single-use plastics by using more sustainable packaging and materials in our stores and our products.”

Kathleen Martin, Executive Director, Canadian Sea Turtle Network: “The factors affecting the survival of sea turtles globally are phenomenally complex. Eliminating single-use plastic is one relatively straightforward factor that we can control, and so it is morally incumbent upon us to do so. Canadians are creative, industrious, and empathetic people who live in a landscape that makes them uniquely attuned to nature. We have both a responsibility and, I would argue, a tremendous opportunity, to be world leaders in this arena. Like all endangered species, sea turtles are on a clock that is relentlessly ticking down. They cannot wait. We need to start now.”

Please join Kim Elmslie and Kathleen Martin on September 29 at 3 p.m. ET for an Instagram Live event: Talking turtles and trash. Tune in on Instagram @oceana_canada and send us your questions about sea turtles and plastic pollution in Canada.

To learn more about Oceana Canada’s campaign to stop plastic pollution, visit www.oceana.ca/Plastics. To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/EndthePlasticDisaster.

You can read the full report at: Oceana.ca/DrowninginPlastic.

Contacts: Tammy Thorne, Oceana Canada, tthorne@oceana.ca, 437-247-0954 and Kathleen Munro, Pilot PMR, kathleen.munro@pilotpmr.com, 902-789-3165. Media assets are available here.

Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future.