Ontario Eyes Single-Use Plastic Ban to Save the Great Lakes

Take #ActionForWater at the 2019 Water Docs Film Festival, March 20-24!

DIVE IN to a spectacular lineup of over 30 Canadian and International features and shorts highlighting the most pressing issues facing water, locally and globally. Come up for air to engage in timely panel discussions with filmmakers, activists, artists and academics. Lose yourself in immersive art exhibits and installations. Meet our 2019 Water Warrior Award recipient.

Approximately 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the Great Lakes from Ontario annually. Why?

Because the production and consumption of single-use plastic trash is increasing while our methods of waste disposal have remained the same. Meanwhile, China recently implemented a ban on the import of recyclables from Western countries (referred to as the National Sword policy) and now much of the recyclables we once sold to China have no where to go, piling up in warehouses across the country as municipalities scramble to figure out what to do with it and where to make up for the lost revenue.

But China bringing down the sword on the two thirds of the North American trash it used to buy may actually be a blessing in disguise.


Nearly a tonne of waste is generated per person in Ontario each year. If we don’t have the facilities to deal with it and it’s increasingly becoming a state of emergency for the environment - why not just ban it? This is exactly what Ontario is now eyeing with the NDP poised to introduce a private member's bill that calls for the phase-out of single-use plastics by 2025. The bill also includes a bottle return scheme (similar to what’s in place for beer cans) to reduce the immediate flow of plastic into the Great Lakes.

Taking a two-tiered approach, the bill proposed by MPP Ian Arthur would ban the worst offenders first - things like plastic bags, straws, plastic-lined coffee cups, black plastic food containers, etc. would be gone by 2020. These are items that are difficult or impossible for Ontario to recycle because we lack the proper facilities to handle them. This would then be followed by an all-out ban of single-use plastics 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. 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.” - Ian Arthur, the MPP for Kingston and the Islands


On March 6, the Ontario government released a 29 page report that explored the question: "Would a ban on single-use plastics be effective in reducing plastic waste?" At the time, Minister of the Environment, Rod Phillips, expressed sentiments that action must be taken to reduce single-use plastics, but Ontario has yet to lay out a solid plan or a timeline for what that action might look like. And frankly, with the amount of plastic set to outweigh the amount of fish in the ocean by 2050, time is something we do not have a lot of. The NDP private members bill has laid out a structured plan, ready to be rolled out immediately.

Time’s up for plastic - let’s do this Ontario.

Now is the time to get loud

Photo from the film Birthplace - screening March 23 at the Water Docs Film Festival

Photo from the film Birthplace - screening March 23 at the Water Docs Film Festival

80% 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.

As Arthur suggested when expressing concern over the Government’s ability to act quickly enough, the time to act on the plastic waste crisis is now - we need to accelerate the timeline on this, not only because the Great Lakes ecosystem is being choked and polluted by plastic waste, but also to set a precedent for other provinces and cities across Canada and the world. A truck load of garbage enters the world’s waterways every minute and the producers of this garbage have never been held accountable for it, walking away with billions in profit leaving communities struggling to clean up the mess.


We need to introduce policies that force these industries to stop producing the steady flow of single-use plastics. We need to hold them accountable for the waste they generate.

It’s also important to remember that better recycling initiatives are not necessarily the answer. As an article in Canadian Geographic pointed out, 95% of the environmental damage done by a product occurs before recycling even takes place: “in manufacturing, in oil extraction, in the poisoning of our rivers and air…the output of carbon. People have to buy less.” Furthermore, plastic can only be recycled so many times before the material degrades and can no longer be recycled, at which point it enters the waste stream. The answer lies in phasing out single-use plastics entirely.

What can you do to take #ActionForWater and encourage Ontario to implement the NDP’s private members bill?

Don’t think for a moment that big industries won’t use push back - remember that time Ontario nearly banned plastic bags but then the industry successfully lobbied against it? We need to be actively engaged if we want to make our voices heard over the clout of big business.

1) The Ontario Government is currently accepting feedback on its proposal to divert waste from landfills. Go read the proposal and provide feedback - tell them you want to see bans on single-use plastics.

2) Follow along with Environmental Defence Canada, Toronto Environmental Alliance and Greenpeace Canada who have been actively advocating for such bans on single-use plastics for years.

3) CONTACT YOUR MPP and give them an earful about how you most definitely want to see a ban on single-use plastics in Ontario. Also contact conservative MPPs and emphasize that this is a voting-level issue of importance for you. Tweet at them! Write them letters! Call them! And do it every day until they pass a motion to ban single-use plastics.

4) Sign-up for the Water Docs monthly newsletter where we keep folks informed about what meaningful actions they can take to protect water. We will be keeping a close eye on this bill and will keep everyone updated.


What we do to the water, we do to ourselves

There is no longer any excuse for single use. As the impacts of climate change worsen, and evidence accumulates to suggest that plastic is everywhere and in everything - including in humans - we can not stand idly by. It is up to all of us to act now.

Tell us how you’re taking #ActionForWater - connect with us online!

This is a guest blog from @itsahashtaglife – blogger, social media manager and content creator for non-profits and charities in Toronto. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.