rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Canada's plastics ban should include beverage containers

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Image: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

What we refer to as "plastic" hasn't been around for long. But its usefulness has caused production to skyrocket -- from about two million tons in 1950 to almost 400 million tons a year now, and rising steadily. It's a problem.

Although much of it can be recycled, most isn't. That's led many local and national governments worldwide to ban or consider bans on non-essential "single-use" plastics. Canada plans to prohibit many items by the end of 2021, but the list isn't comprehensive. Plastic grocery bags, cutlery, straws and stir sticks, beverage-pack rings and a few more items will be prohibited. Garbage bags, snack-food wrappers and beverage containers won't.

The exemption for beverage containers, in particular, is controversial. Many argue they're unnecessary and are petitioning government to include them. Others note that bottled water is sometimes needed in emergency situations. And some communities, especially Indigenous communities, still lack access to safe tap water.

The federal government, which is accepting public input on the issue until December 9, says beverage containers won't be included in the proposal for the ban's "first wave" because they're easy to recover and recycle, and are necessary in communities that don't have access to clean water. It's proposing recycled content requirements for plastics not subject to the ban, but the focus ought to be on reducing plastic packaging in the first place.

We note that the government committed to ending long-term boil-water advisories on First Nations by March 2021, but the pandemic has put that deadline in question. As for recycling, of the 5.3 million bottles of water Canadians buy each day, more than 90 per cent end up in the environment, as do the enormous quantities of other plastic-bottled beverages.

Recycling requires a lot of energy, and plastic polymers break down in the recycling process. That, along with low fossil fuel prices, makes new oil-derived materials more cost-effective than recycled plastic. But it takes more water to create a plastic bottle than the bottle will hold, and the energy required to produce a bottle of water is 2,000 times that to produce the same amount of tap water.

The government says it wants to work with provinces to ensure more plastics are recycled, but it will be challenging.

Although many concerns around banning single-use plastic beverage containers are valid, ban proponents argue they aren't insurmountable -- and the reasons to include them in a ban are compelling.

To start, alternatives based on "reduce and reuse" distribution are available and could be expanded. Most people in Canada have access to safe tap water, even though 20 per cent continue to drink water from bottles. Some beverage companies already offer the option to refill reusable containers, which will be part of the solution. Furthermore, even in the realm of single-use packaging, aluminium and glass are easier to recycle than plastic, as they don't degrade in the same way as plastic during the recycling process.

But we must prioritize "reduce and reuse" if we’re going to make progress toward zero waste. The truth is we don't need most of the sweetened beverages sold in single-use plastics, and our bodies might be better off without them! Water is the exception.

But Canada has the infrastructure to provide high quality tap water to most communities, at much lower cost than bottled water. Tap water is also far more regulated and tested than bottled water, which can contain microplastics and other contamination. In fact, most bottled water is obtained from municipal or public water supplies, at little or no cost to corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé.

Studies also show that people ingest the equivalent of a plastic credit card every week. And the impacts of plastic pollution on oceans are a major threat to marine life and to human health and survival -- not unlike the impacts of fossil fuels, from which plastics are made.

At the very least, all single-portion plastic beverage containers should be banned and no effort should be spared to ensure everyone in Canada has access to safe tap water. Canada is fortunate to have plentiful water and the capacity and knowledge to deliver it to people.

Beverage containers are among the most ubiquitous of environmentally devastating plastics. We don't need single-serve plastic bottles.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior writer and editor Ian Hanington.  Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

Image: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.