Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, answers Mediaplanet’s questions about the impacts of plastic waste, what Canadians can do about it, and what the government is doing to tackle the issue.


Mediaplanet: Why is it so important for Canadians to get serious about plastic waste?

Catherine McKenna: Plastics play an important role in our lives — everything from medical equipment to food containers to airplane parts is made up of them. The problem isn’t plastic, though, it’s plastic pollution. Too much plastic is ending up in our environment and in our landfills, instead of being recycled and reused. In fact, less than 10% of the plastic used in Canada gets recycled. This waste has a cost, too. Every year, Canadians throw away $8 billion worth of plastic, wasting resources and creating unnecessary pollution.

How or why did this issue become a priority for the government?

On average, a dump truck-load worth of plastic enters the ocean every minute. It’s expected that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight. This is a global problem that requires a global solution. During Canada’s G7 presidency last year, we made plastic pollution a priority. Canada launched the Ocean Plastics Charter, which outlines concrete actions to eradicate plastic pollution and recognizes the need for urgent action to address the devastating impacts of marine litter on the health and sustainability of our oceans, seas, coastal communities, and ecosystems. 

"Our approach [...] will be guided by science and will closely mirror the actions taken by [...] like-minded countries that are banning these single-use plastics wherever good alternatives exist."

As of May 2019, the Charter has been endorsed by 21 governments and 60 businesses and organizations. Canada is contributing $100 million to help developing countries prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans, address plastic waste on shorelines, and better manage existing plastic resources.

On Canada Day last year, we banned microbeads, which are small pieces of plastic that are often found in beauty products and that were ending up in Canada’s freshwater and marine ecosystems.

And we’re leading by example to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in government operations. As one of the biggest purchasers in the country, we’re helping create a market for recycled and reusable goods.

How does the Canadian government plan to tackle the issue of plastic waste?

I was proud to announce earlier this month with the Prime Minister that our government is taking two bold new measures to tackle plastic pollution. 

As soon as 2021, Canada will ban harmful single-use plastic products like straws, cutlery, stir sticks, and plates, which science shows is an effective way to reduce plastic pollution. 

Our approach – which includes determining which products fall under the ban and what other measures we could take to reduce plastic waste – will be guided by science and will closely mirror the actions taken by the European Union and other like-minded countries that are banning these single-use plastics wherever good alternatives exist.

We’ll also work in partnership with provinces and territories to fully transfer the responsibility for the collection and recycling of plastic products and packaging from towns and cities to the companies that generate this plastic waste in the first place. Whether we’re talking about plastic bottles or cell phone parts, it’ll be up to businesses to take responsibility for the plastics they’re manufacturing and to ensure they’re recycled properly when they’re no longer useful.

Currently, Canadians throw away $8 billion of plastic material every single year. By recycling or reusing these plastics, we can reduce pollution, generate billions of dollars in revenue, drive innovation, and create approximately 42,000 jobs. It will also save us $500 million in waste management costs.

How will your initiative solve this problem? Will there be stricter regulations for businesses using plastic materials or incentives for consumers?

In 2018, we worked with provinces and territories through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to develop the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste. We’ll be convening in Halifax next week and I look forward to building on our progress with an ambitious action plan with all provinces and territories. Canadians care deeply about nature and we are taking action to make sure plastic stays out of our environment and in our economy.