World Oceans Day on June 8 is a time to celebrate and honour the oceans that feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. They also serve as the foundation for much of the world’s economy, from tourism and fisheries to international shipping. Careful management of this essential global resource is necessary for a sustainable future.
Every year, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans from activities on land. Tackling marine plastic pollution is a priority, considering the impacts to economies, wildlife, and ecosystems. On World Oceans Day, we celebrate the efforts made worldwide to protect the marine environment.
Canada and the Ocean Plastics Charter
The Government of Canada is at the forefront of critical international efforts to protect the marine environment. As the country with the longest coastline in the world, Canada spearheaded the Ocean Plastics Charter under its G7 presidency in 2018.
“The health of our oceans is critical to reducing climate change, growing economies, supporting coastal communities and protecting ocean biodiversity and ecosystems. Plastic pollution knows no borders and requires global action. Through the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada is partnering with governments, businesses, and organizations from around the world to move toward a sustainable and circular economy for plastics. Together, we are working towards a future of zero plastic waste,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change in Canada.
The charter outlines concrete actions to eliminate plastic pollution and recognizes the need for urgent action to address the impacts of marine litter on the health and sustainability of our oceans, seas, coastal communities, and ecosystems.
As of May 2020, 26 governments and 69 businesses and organizations have endorsed the Charter, committing to more sustainable approaches to produce, use, and manage plastic and reduce plastic pollution in the oceans.
In support of the charter, Canada has also committed Can$ 100 million (more than US$ 71 million) for developing countries to prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans, to address plastic waste on shorelines, and to better manage existing plastic resources.
Canada and international agreements to reduce plastic pollution
Canada implements its commitments under several binding international agreements that help prevent waste and litter, such as:
- the Basel Convention on Controlling Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal;
- the Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL); and
- the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter.
Canada also participates in the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, which focuses on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide.
Together with the United States and Mexico, Canada is working collaboratively through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to bring together communities and decision makers to build local solutions and raise awareness of marine litter in North America.
To achieve its international commitments under the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada is taking ambitious domestic action, which includes a vision to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, whereby plastics stay in the economy – and out of the environment. Federal, provincial and territorial governments are working together to implement the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste – a path forward to better prevent, reduce, reuse, recover, capture, and clean up plastic waste. By engaging with industry and other levels of government, Canada aims to recover 100 percent of all plastics by 2040.
The initial phase of the Canada-wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste, launched in 2019, focuses on activities to increase the recovery of plastics in the economy. These include establishing consistent extended producer responsibility programs; providing support for innovations and infrastructure to better manage plastics; increasing the responsible use and recycling of single-use products; facilitating greening government operations and purchasing; and developing standards for recycled content in plastic products and bio-based plastic products.
A second phase under development this year will complete the set of actions to implement the strategy by improving consumer, business, and institution awareness; reducing waste and pollution from aquatic activities; advancing science; tackling debris in the environment; and continuing to contribute to global action.
Canada is among the 8 percent of countries in the world to ban toiletries containing plastic microbeads. Through sustainable procurement and reducing the use of unnecessary single use plastics at its events, meetings and in its operations, Canada has also committed to diverting 75 percent of its plastic waste from federal operations by 2030.
The Canadian government is also investing in robust science to address priority research gaps. Canada’s Plastics Science Agenda and Plastics Science for a Cleaner Future are recent steps in investments in research to better understand the impacts of plastic pollution and support solutions across the value chain.
As another source of marine litter is lost fishing and aquaculture gear, the Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program, a Can$ 8.3 million investment (from 2020-2022), supports the prevention and retrieval of so called ghost gear – discarded, lost or abandoned fishing and aquaculture gear. It will also support fish harvesters to acquire new gear technologies to reduce gear loss. This is the first fund of its kind that dedicates a significant source of funds specifically to combat ghost gear.
Zero Plastic Waste Initiative and Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge
Through the Zero Plastic Waste Initiative, the Canadian government is investing Can$ 8.3 million (2018-2022) in mobilizing actions to improve the understanding, mitigation or remediation of plastic waste and pollution in Canada. This includes:
- Resources for Canadians, including youth, to make informed choices about how to buy, use, dispose or recycle their plastic products, such as: 10,000 Changes campaign, Plastic Wise, the Anthropocene Educational Program, Ocean Plastic Education Kit, and the Climate Kids Plastics and Oceans online game.
- Removal of plastics in the environment through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup
- Helping leading businesses and organizations move towards a circular plastics economy, including assessing options to reduce agricultural plastic waste, creating an online market place for secondary plastics from the industrial, commercial, and institutional sector, and evaluating the recycling value chain and identifying pilot projects for hard-to-recycle items.
Through the Canadian Plastic Innovation Challenge, the government is also investing nearly Can$ 19 million (US$ 13.5 million) to support Canadian innovators and small businesses to develop solutions for plastics challenges, such as reducing plastic waste and microfibers from textiles, finding sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging, developing sustainable fishing and aquaculture gear, and improving the compostability of bioplastics.
Partnering with UNEP
In 2017, Canada joined the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas Campaign. So far, over 60 countries have joined this campaign aimed at transforming habits, practices, standards, and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes. This first engagement set the path to the creation of the Oceans Plastics Charter and Canada’s national commitments and strategies.
Today, Canada supports the global efforts of UNEP to address marine litter through many avenues. One is the participation in the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics, an outcome of the third UN Environment Assembly, to assess effective means to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics from all sources, and to examine options to strengthen multilateral action.
Canada is also part of the steering committee of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter for which UNEP provides the secretariat. The global partnership seeks to protect the global marine environment, human well-being, and animal welfare by addressing the global problem of marine litter. As part of this partnership, Canada supported the Caribbean region to develop educational materials, and engage stakeholders in strategic planning for advancing the regional marine litter action plan for the Caribbean. Canada also provided financial support to enable other countries to participate in the Basel Convention’s Partnership on Plastic Waste meeting.
In March this year, UNEP and Canada signed a five-year agreement whereby Canada provides Can$ 3.1 million annually to the Environment Fund of UNEP, placing Canada among the top-10 contributors of core, flexible resources to UNEP in 2020.
In addition to addressing plastic pollution and marine litter, the Environment Fund supports global efforts in the areas of climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environment under review.