On October 7, the Government of Canada announced a proposed ban on six plastic products, which would come into effect in 2021. But what does this ban entail — and it is enough to reduce national plastic consumption?
The government’s announcement was accompanied by a discussion paper which laid out future plans to redesign the plastics economy in a way that encourages cyclical consumption of plastics and the minimization of new plastic production.
This paper included a systematic analysis of a preliminary list of single-use plastics, as well as what the paper calls “short-lived disposable products or their components” — items such as pens and toothbrushes. This list then underwent analysis based on three criteria: whether the item posed a significant ecological threat, whether there was difficulty in recycling them, and whether they qualified for exemption on the basis of necessity and feasible alternatives.
What could be banned?
The six products that the government felt met these criteria to a sufficient degree are proposed for a ban in 2021. They include plastic checkout bags, stir sticks, “6-pack rings,” cutlery, straws, and “food service ware made from problematic plastics.” The discussion paper explicitly excluded personal protective equipment from the ban due to its indispensable functions.
The Varsity interviewed Chelsea Rochman, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Rochman’s research focuses on microplastics and other pollutants’ interactions with the environment.
Rochman is one of the authors of a recently published study analyzing different models of plastic policies, one of which — termed “business as usual” — represents a scenario in which no changes are made in the way that plastics are used.
When asked whether she felt that this ban would create change sufficient to avoid such a scenario, Rochman responded with optimism, particularly for “building a more circular economy and changing the way we use and make and waste plastic.”
“While I think we have a lot of work to do, I think what we’ve announced we would do in this country will make a measurable difference if we do it,” she added.
Rochman went on to address the ways in which university students can become involved to encourage change. “We can make changes within the university by trying to make our university… closer to zero waste,” she said. “I think what a lot of young people don’t realize is that their voice is sometimes more meaningful to a politician than somebody who’s a bit older. And why that is, I think, is because this is the next generation… So we always need to be taking care of the world for the next generation.”
The Varsity also had the opportunity to interview Coco Chen, the University of Toronto environmental resource network’s representative from UTM. They brought up issues of intersectionality with respect to the needs of people who are disabled being left unaddressed on items such as straws, which are included in the ban.
They went on to say that plastic straws “are necessary for people with a variety of disabilities” since they play a part in preventing aspiration. They said that people who are disabled “have debunked [the idea of alternatives] for straws” and that suggestions “like metal and glass straws are dangerous.”
Currently, the government paper describes the concerns of people who are disabled as a topic for further discussion.
The Varsity also reached out to U of T Media Relations to inquire whether this ban will affect students with respect to costs, particularly with meal services.
In an email to The Varsity, Colin Porter, Executive Director Food and Beverage Services & Campus Events, wrote that “Our commitment to sustainability includes biodegradable cutlery, paper straws, a reusable food container program and the fact that all of single-use plastics are either recyclable or compostable.”
Additionally, Porter addressed possible concerns about increased costs associated with this type of legislation being filtered down to students.
“With respect to cost impacts, we always try to seek efficiencies elsewhere in our operations to offset any increases,” they wrote. “Once Canadian government’s proposed ban on certain single-use plastic items is finalized in 2021, we will work to implement any additional changes in a way that minimizes impact on the University community.”