G7 plastics charter could be like Paris agreement for the oceans, says McKenna

FILE: PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the plastic used in bottles, can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment, so it usually ends up as waste in landfills, littered on land or floating in oceans. The modified enzyme can break it down in just a few days, the study shows. Photo by Epics/Getty Images

OTTAWA – Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the plastics charter she is negotiating with other G7 nations ahead of next month’s leaders’ summit in Quebec could be billed as a Paris-type agreement for ocean garbage.

McKenna tells The Canadian Press the talks are tough, but going well – and she’s confident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have something solid to present to other leaders in Charlevoix, Que., in June.

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The plastics charter is to be a centrepiece element of the summit, where the environment is one of the themes Trudeau chose for Canada’s turn as the presidency of the G7.

McKenna says the charter will focus on a high-level policy approach that will include targets for reducing the amount of garbage in the oceans and call for domestic plans to meet those targets. Different studies suggest anywhere from 6 million tonnes to 10 million tonnes of plastic garbage ends up in the ocean each year. More than half of it comes from a small number of countries, mainly in Asia, where garbage collection is lacklustre at best.

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She says even if a lot of the garbage Canadians individually produce isn’t what’s clogging the ocean, Canada has a role to play in developing products that are easier to recycle and Canadians can do more to reduce the amount of single-use plastics in their lives.

Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, says it is ridiculous to walk into a grocery store and see a Styrofoam tray with one or two bell peppers wrapped tightly in plastic shrink wrap. He says companies argue consumers want the convenience but he says he finds it highly unlikely customers are clamouring for plastic wrap on all their vegetables.

He noted Canada doesn’t yet have a domestic plan for plastics. McKenna launched public consultations in April on such a plan, but would not confirm if Canada will announce any national policies before the G7.

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Taking a look at Plastic Pollution on Earth Day – Apr 22, 2018

In addition to setting targets for reducing plastic waste, McKenna says the charter will push the G7 to work with industry to develop less harmful products and help developing nations create better waste disposal systems to keep plastics from the water.

McKenna says if the G7 can agree on a charter, the goal then will be to take it next to the G20.

Gray says the idea of a plastics charter as a sort of Paris agreement for plastics is an interesting one but only if there is actual work to follow through on it.

“We don’t want to see situations where we have more signing of more Paris-like agreements, but not the required action at the domestic level to make it actually achievable.”

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The Paris agreement on climate change committed countries to setting national targets to cut emissions with an aim to keeping global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial temperatures.

Getting some of the G7 on board the plastics bandwagon won’t be hard, as the United Kingdom, Italy and France already have started on policies to ban certain plastic products or work towards reducing their use. Japan is already one of the world’s most proficient recyclers, reporting in 2014 that 83 per cent of plastic was recycled or reused.

Germany, the United States and Canada have no national policies on plastics and are among the biggest per capita users of plastics.

Canadians produce an estimated 720 kilograms of garbage per person each year and recycle less than one third of it.

McKenna would not say if any particular countries were reluctant to sign on to a plastics charter or whether there were any big hurdles to getting their co-operation

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