One Pound of Plastic for Every Three Pounds of Fish. That is the reality of the state of the ocean, at the G7, Canada Recently Signed A Plastics Charter, But How Effective Is It really?
We take a closer look at the meaning of this and how relative it is!
Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) trapped in an abandoned drifting net in the Mediterranean sea. Photo: Jordi Chias
Many Canadians don’t completely grasp the effect that plastic waste has on the earth and on our oceans in particular. Even with proposed bans against single-use plastic items like plastic straws making the nightly news, we haven’t yet mobilized as a nation to combat plastic waste in any meaningful way. This is due in part to the fact that many of us remain ignorant of the consequences of our inaction.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, less than 11% of our plastic waste is recycled and about 80% of marine litter comes from land originally. So while most of us might think that the plastic bags or straws we neglect to recycle end up in a landfill somewhere—if we think about it at all—it’s increasingly important that we consider the damage done to marine habitats by that waste.
John Coyne, the executive board chair of Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance, writing in an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail noted, “At this pace, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the oceans by 2025.
To better understand how this plastic waste impacts ocean wildlife, consider the case of a pilot whale that was discovered in a canal in Southern Thailand this May.
In the province of Songkhla, close to the country’s border with Malaysia, a male whale was found experiencing difficulty breathing and swimming.
A Handout photo made available by ThaiWhales.org on 03 June 2018 shows the total 80 pieces of plastic bags were found in a stomach of a short-finned pilot whale after an autopsy in Songkhla province, southern Thailand. (EPA-EFE/THAIWHALES)
Despite efforts by rescuers and veterinarians to save the whale, it died five days later. Over the course of those five days, the whale vomited multiple plastic bags.
An autopsy uncovered seventeen pounds of plastic (which included 80 shopping bags) in the whale’s stomach. Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources head, Jatuporn Buruspat, speculated that the whale mistook the bags for food.
The Plastics Charter
Recognizing the urgent need to address plastic pollution, Canada put forth the Ocean Plastics Charter at the recent G7 summit in Charlevoix.
It was signed by five of the member countries (Japan and America both abstained). In signing the charter, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the UK committed to “take a lifecycle approach to plastics stewardship on land and at sea . . . to avoid unnecessary use of plastics and prevent waste, and to ensure that plastics are designed for recovery, reuse, recycling and end-of-life management to prevent waste through various policy measures.”
Like the Paris Agreement, the charter is non-binding and the G7 members who endorsed it are able to set their own goals and targets. Signees commit to “mobilize and support collaborative government, industry, academia, citizen and youth-led initiatives” and to “enable consumers and businesses to change their behavior” rather than a specific set of guidelines. This has resulted in criticism from environmental groups who perceive the charter as toothless.
In a blistering press release, Greenpeace wrote that the blueprint “fails to secure the action needed to get to the root cause of the plastic pollution crisis,” pointing out that the agreement “made no mention of reduction strategies or bans on single-use plastics that are major culprits in ocean plastic pollution.”
The Canadian environmental group Environmental Defence, in its own press release, said, “the true effectiveness of this agreement will depend on how the Charter is interpreted and implemented back home in each country, and Canada must create a strong national strategy as an example of its leadership.”
While many Canadians are motivated to curb their plastic consumption in the absence of the kind of bans on single-use products environmentalists have in mind, we will probably need to act collectively in order to affect real change. Environment and Climate Change Canada is currently inviting Canadians to participate in an
“online consultation” where we can offer feedback on policy and make suggestions for what the Canadian government can do better. If you feel that the Plastics Charter does not go far enough this consultation offers a place for you to make your voice heard.