I recently attended a workshop in Toronto hosted by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) about identifying ways to get to zero plastic waste. The federal government has committed to creating this strategy. Participants came from all levels of government, business – from retailers to brand owners to plastic producers – and environmental groups. You could say that everyone was there.
It was useful to hear the varied viewpoints. I learned a lot and I met some interesting people. Right from the start, though, there was this little niggle at the back of my neck – zero plastic waste – does that mean we’re just looking at ways to keep plastic out of landfills? Isn’t that what we’ve been trying to do (and failing quite spectacularly)?
What about not producing it in the first place? While the need to reduce did get brought up in discussions, it wasn’t specifically on the agenda. I find the lack of emphasis on reduction quite worrying. If we are truly serious about zero plastic waste, we have to start at the first R and turn off the pipe. It’s fine to rescue plastic from the ocean and to put resources into improving the waste management systems of countries that are most responsible for ocean plastics, but there also has to be recognition of the need to reduce the amount we send into the world. Period. If we are not serious about reduction, why bother with a strategy?
I get the hesitation. People whose business it is to make and sell stuff are reluctant to plan to do less. It just goes against the more-bigger-better mindset. But statistics about more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050 and only 9 percent of all plastics created avoiding disposal point to the need to consider bolder actions. We need to tackle that elephant.
The strategy is being presented to the CCME in June. I’m sure we’ll have more to say then. J