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Ontario NDP pushing government to ban single-use plastics — and do it by 2025

The Ontario NDP is poised to introduce a private member's bill calling for a ban on all single-use, throwaway plastics in the province by 2025 — although it's unclear if the Progressive Conservative government will sign on.

Private member's bill calls for phase-out by 2025, although PCs not committing to a timeline

Ontario's New Democrats plan to introduce a private member's bill that calls for a complete ban on single-use plastics in the province by 2025. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

The Ontario NDP is poised to introduce a private member's bill calling for a ban on all single-use, throwaway plastics in the province by 2025 — although it's unclear if the Progressive Conservative government will sign on.

Ian Arthur, the MPP for Kingston and the Islands and the Official Opposition's environment, said his proposed Single-Use Plastics Ban Act takes a two-tiered approach to banning single-use plastics. 

The legislation calls on the government to ban "the worst offenders," including plastic bags, straws, plastic-lined coffee cups as well as black plastic food containers by 2020, and then ban single-use plastics completely by 2025.

"Ontario is known around the world for its majestic lakes and rivers, and for the vastness of our pristine wilderness and the diversity of the wildlife," Arthur told reporters at Queen's Park on Tuesday.

"Frighteningly, this reputation is becoming farther and farther from reality, as the amount of plastic debris littering our shorelines, including bottles, bags and straws, has increased drastically over the decades."

There are signs the PC government supports the idea of banning single-use plastics, although it's unclear if it would support an NDP bill. 

Ian Arthur, MPP for Kingston and the Islands and the official opposition's critic for the environment, says a ban on single-use plastics would put pressure on manufacturers. 'For too long, we have left industry to make its own rules.' (CBC)

On March 6, the Ontario government released a 29-page report, "Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities: Discussion Paper," that posed the question: "Would a ban on single-use plastics be effective in reducing plastic waste?"

In response, Environment Minister Rod Phillips told The Canadian Press on the weekend that the province is very open to the idea. In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday, Phillips said plastics have to be a priority but he declined to say when the government would take action.

"Action is absolutely what's called for," Phillips said.

The provincial government wants to reduce the amount of waste that's going into landfill sites. A ban on single-use plastics is one element of the province's strategy. Environment Minister Rod Phillips explains. 9:16

NDP demands a timeline

Arthur said government needs to act now because plastic pollutes Ontario waterways, endangers and kills wildlife, threatens human health and leaches toxic chemicals into the environment.

Currently, he said, the government has no timeline, unlike his bill, which presents a ready-made plan that could be adopted immediately.

"This plan is ready to become law now," he said.

Arthur said he has not talked to government officials about his bill, but said the legislation provides exemptions for such things as medical waste and items needed by people with disabilities.

"We need to accelerate the timeframe that we're doing this on and I question how quickly the government is going to actually act on this issue," Arthur said.

Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips says: 'This is a much bigger issue than just looking solely at plastics. We're going to look at that. But we're also looking at all matter of other waste.' (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Phillips said the government is inviting people to comment on the discussion paper, available here, until the end of April, and will have a broader plan after that. 

"This is a much bigger issue than just looking solely at plastics. We're going to look at that. But we're also looking at all matter of other waste," he said.

"I think what people in Ontario expect is a comprehensive approach. They expect us to look holistically at this. We're going to come back with a considered plan."

Great Lakes plastic pollution at 'alarming levels'

Lake Erie, pictured here, is the smallest of the Great Lakes but it provides drinking water for about 14 million people. Each year, people put 10,000 tonnes of new plastic into the Great Lakes, according to the NDP. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

At Queen's Park, Arthur told reporters that the bill has urgency because plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, for example, has reached "alarming levels already." 

Eighty per cent of litter in the Great Lakes region is plastic, pollution that threatens the ecosystem of the lakes and the source of drinking water depended upon by 40 million people, he said. Each year, people put 10,000 tonnes of new plastic into the Great Lakes, he added.

Arthur said all levels of government, including the province, must put pressure on manufacturers and corporations to stop producing single-use, non-biodegradable plastics that are inundating landfills.

"For too long, we have left industry to make its own rules," he said.

With files from Metro Morning

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