Comment: MPs’ motion important step toward eliminating plastic pollution

You might have read a powerful piece in the Times Colonist this week about the power of youth in stopping plastic pollution (“Don’t dismiss power of youth in stopping plastic pollution,” comment, Dec. 16).

It was written by 16-year-old Anastasia Castro. In her op-ed, she references the newly passed NDP Motion M-151, a national strategy to combat plastic pollution.

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What Anastasia fails to mention is that credit for the M-151 belongs to her and Kids for a Plastic-Free Canada. She had an impact on us.

We are Vancouver Islanders, fathers and members of Parliament for ridings that are economically and culturally dependent on a pristine marine environment. Our communities are increasingly concerned about the crisis of plastic pollution in our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

If you are a millennial or centennial, like Anastasia, you are likely the one sounding the alarm, calling for real action to change the way we consume single-use plastics, for corporations to end their industrial use of plastic and for governments to regulate and legislate plastic use in our society.

Plastic pollution in our waterways is a real, direct and growing threat — to both our fragile ecosystems and human health. For more than 50 years, the production and consumption of plastics have continued to rise, and more than 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year.

It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight than fish in our oceans.

This plastic isn’t just floating, of course. It’s breaking down into microscopic particles that enter aquatic food chains and contain a host of carcinogens. Because of the rapid rise of the use of plastics and their accumulation in our food chains, the threat to human health will only increase without concrete action.

While Canada has signed on to both the UN Clean Seas Initiative, and the G7’s new Ocean Plastics Charter, talk of creating a “circular economy” without binding regulations will not get the job done. Last month, the federal and provincial environment ministers agreed to work on a plan to cut Canada’s garbage by 50 per cent and eliminate plastic waste by 2040. This is a positive goal, but the government’s weak targets don’t reflect the severity of the crisis — and without tangible, immediate action, we won’t meet them.

Other nations are backing their pledges, promises and good intentions with concrete action now — and Canada must do the same. The European Union has introduced regulations to eliminate certain plastics by 2021. Strong measures such as those are needed here, too.

Thanks to calls to action from Canadians, particularly young Canadians, members of Parliament took a first step this month in responding to this urgency when they voted unanimously in support of NDP Motion M-151 for a national strategy on ocean plastics. Based on the findings of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre’s “Seven Reforms to Address Marine Plastic Pollution,” Motion M-151 provides a path forward on plastic pollution.

The actions identified in M-151 are aimed at reducing plastic-debris discharge from storm-water outfalls, the industrial use of microplastics, and consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics.

Together, these reforms comprise a comprehensive strategy to reduce and eliminate Canadian-source plastic pollution in our water — and ultimately to redesign Canada’s plastics economy.

At the same time, dedicated annual funding is required for the cleanup of derelict fishing gear, including ghost nets; to support community-led initiatives to recover plastics and debris from our shores; and for education and outreach on the root causes and negative environmental impacts of plastic pollution.

Members of Parliament of all political stripes have taken the first step to answer the resounding ocean-plastics alarm by supporting M-151, but now the federal government must turn that promise of support into concrete government action. For the sake of our planet and our youth, we hope they do.

Murray Rankin is MP for Victoria and Gord Johns is MP for Courtenay-Alberni.

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