News

FIRST READING: Ottawa makes the paper straw permanent


Meanwhile, their own science says it will do almost nothing to save the oceans

Article content

First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here.

Advertisement 2

Article content

TOP STORIES

Paper straws will soon be a permanent fixture in Canadian milkshakes following Ottawa’s confirmation of a timeline by which they will issue new federal bans on single-use plastics.

By 2024, it will be illegal for Canadian grocery stores to issue plastic shopping bags at checkout (although you’ll still be able to buy them in the housewares aisle). Also caught in the ban are plastic stir sticks, plastic takeout containers, plastic cutlery and plastic ring carriers, although there will be rare exceptions for disabled Canadians. “By the end of the year, you won’t be able to manufacture or import these harmful plastics,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said at an announcement in Quebec City.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Advertisement 4

Article content

Industry groups have critiqued the policy as Ottawa chucking another cost into an already rapidly inflating economy, while environmental groups have said the bans are a mostly cosmetic measure that leaves the bulk of Canada’s plastic waste untouched.

But the government’s own science shows that the ban is likely to have a negligible effect on the one thing it is most touted to address: ocean health.

Guilbeault made Monday’s announcement in front of the Saint Lawrence River and statements accompanying the new measure touted it as a boon for the health of Canada’s “beaches” and “shorelines.”

Environment Canada has said the new regulations were based in part on a 2019 Deloitte study it commissioned to examine the state of the Canadian plastics market.

Advertisement 5

Article content

That study estimated that just one per cent of Canadian plastic waste was being lost to what they called “leakage,” meaning that it entered the environment as litter.

Of the 3,268 kilotonnes of plastic waste Canada generated in 2016, 3,239 kilotonnes was “collected”— although most of that ended up in landfills rather than getting diverted to recycling.

That tiny red line is the quantity of plastic waste “leakage.” Of that, it’s unknown how much is making its way to waterways.
That tiny red line is the quantity of plastic waste “leakage.” Of that, it’s unknown how much is making its way to waterways. Photo by Deloitte LLP via Environment and Climate Change Canada

While the Deloitte study could not estimate how much of the leakage was reaching the ocean, they did recommend that it could be reduced 10-fold purely with efforts “to reduce litter” and made no mention of bans.

A scientific backgrounder that accompanied an early draft of the proposed federal plastics ban relied almost exclusively on data from the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to estimate the effect of plastic on Canadian waterways.

Advertisement 6

Article content

In the cleanup’s 2018 report, plastic bags ranked sixth as the item most often recovered from shoreline cleanups, while straws were in ninth place. The worst offenders — including bottle caps — were items untouched by the new ban. Cigarette butts alone accounted for 42.1 per cent of all litter recovered, while more recent cleanups have seen rising rates of discarded surgical masks.

Numbers from 2018 showing the litter most frequently collected on Canadian shorelines.
Numbers from 2018 showing the litter most frequently collected on Canadian shorelines. Photo by Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

Nevertheless, Oceanwise — which organizes the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup — had praise on Monday for the new measures, saying it was “a victory for Canada.”

While ocean plastic is indeed a growing global problem, it’s one being driven almost exclusively by two factors: Abandoned fishing gear and poor waste management in the developing world.

Advertisement 7

Article content

The Trudeau government has actually been trying to fix the former problem — although the initiative has gotten way less attention and funding than their push to ban plastics. The Ghost Gear Program, begun in 2019, has spent roughly $8.3 million to remove 739 tonnes of abandoned fishing gear from the oceans.

Advertisement 8

Article content

This alone represents nearly one third of the estimated 2,500 tonnes of Canadian plastic litter that Deloitte estimates are finding their way into the environment each year — of which a fraction comprises the six items targeted by the new ban. What’s more, ghost gear is far more perilous to marine life due to its penchant to entangle sea creatures.

Nevertheless, Canada is not the first to begin enacting blanket bans on categories of single-use plastics. Most notably, last summer the European Union banned a slate of single-use plastics for which alternatives were available. This included all of the items on Canada’s list, as well as plastic plates, q-tips and the plastic sticks used to support balloons.

The most obvious opponent to the new regulations is a consortium of plastic producers who are in the process of suing the federal government.

Advertisement 9

Article content

Restaurants Canada — whose members will be most disproportionately targeted by the new measures — warned Monday that recent supply chain shortages have made it almost impossible to obtain sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics. “Nobody knew the supply would be that problematic,” spokesman Olivier Barbeau told The Canadian Press.

When Ottawa first raised the prospect of a ban on single-use plastics, Restaurants Canada filed a detailed reply warning that the measure could represent a “150 per cent cost increase” on an industry already decimated by COVID-19.  “In other jurisdictions that have implemented bans, such as San Francisco, litter audits have revealed that the volume of litter remained the same while the composition of the litter changed,” it read.

Advertisement 10

Article content

Greenpeace — which once counted Guilbeault as their Quebec bureau chief — called the measure a “critical step forward,” but claimed in a statement that it would “only cover less than 5 per cent of Canada’s 2019 total plastic waste generated.”

The group also cited OECD data to show that Canada plastic consumption is set to nearly double over the next 40 years. 

Environmental Defence, a group more explicitly devoted to fighting plastic waste, was more charitable towards the Trudeau government’s new measures. “We’ve been working toward this day for many years and are relieved it has finally come,” read a statement by spokesperson Karen Wirsig. The organization added that it was looking forward to “additional bans.”

Advertisement 11

Article content

Advertisement 12

Article content

IN OTHER NEWS

Big Banks don’t often directly criticize the federal government, since they usually want Ottawa to continue treating them nicely. But economists at Scotiabank have fired a not tremendously subtle broadside at the Trudeau government for continuing to pour deficit-financed cash into Canada’s already overheated economy. As two Scotiabank economists put it in a recent report, “less government consumption would lead to a lower path for the policy rate and take some of the burden of adjustment away from the private sector.” What this means, in staid economics talk, is that Ottawa’s spending habit is ramping up inflation so badly that it’s going to take a particularly painful rise in interest rates to rein everything in.

Advertisement 13

Article content

With the Conservatives, Green Party and Alberta United Conservative Party currently consumed by vicious infighting, the Assembly of First Nations has decided to join in. After National Chief RoseAnne Archibald (pictured) publicly called for an audit to clean up corruption within the Assembly, she was suspended on the grounds that she was undermining the integrity of the organization.
With the Conservatives, Green Party and Alberta United Conservative Party currently consumed by vicious infighting, the Assembly of First Nations has decided to join in. After National Chief RoseAnne Archibald (pictured) publicly called for an audit to clean up corruption within the Assembly, she was suspended on the grounds that she was undermining the integrity of the organization. Photo by Postmedia File via Zoom

For all the wacky things that Quebec has been doing lately (firing civil servants in hijabs, greenlighting warrantless searches of doctor’s offices by language police, etc.) the province has taken a notable break from its usual penchant of attempting to secede. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has avoided any overt separatist talk, but he has been making some really nationalistic statements of late, such as mulling over whether Quebec should just start ignoring the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you’re the cynical type, you might conclude that Legault is simply trying to kill the Parti Québécois once and for all. Quebec’s traditional separatist option has just six representatives in the National Assembly and its 43-year-old leader has a weird habit of posting cringeworthy photos to social media.  

Like this one.
Like this one. Photo by Paul Plamondon/Twitter

Despite the fact that Liberals keep getting caught peeing while Zooming into the House of Commons, the party has proposed extending “hybrid Parliament” for another year. The government’s argument was that MPs keep getting sick and thus need the option to go to work in the House of Commons via laptop. The Conservatives have countered that the Liberals are just trying to duck out of going to work.

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.