I'm delighted to join you today from rainy Vancouver via video link. My apologies for not being there in person.
My name is Dr. Peter Ross. I'm vice-president of research at the Ocean Wise Conservation Association in Vancouver.
We at Ocean Wise, formerly the Vancouver Aquarium, have been showcasing for over 25 years the harm that plastic can cause. Through a range of research, engagement and action initiatives, we have engaged individuals, communities, the private sector and the public sector in a number of positive, practical and solution-oriented ways. We believe that in order to solve the plastic pollution crisis, we need a team approach, one that is inclusive and speaks to the role and the potential of each and every Canadian. After all, plastic is all around each and every one of us: at home, at school, at work, at play and on the road.
I'll simply touch on a few key points that are important to us and salient in terms of the plastic pollution crisis, and steps that we can take as a country.
The first point I'll make is that plastic is everywhere. The plastic pollution issue is widespread and very real. Our great Canadian shoreline cleanup has been documenting the “dirty dozen” items on beaches across Canada for over 25 years. Our plastics laboratory first documented the widespread distribution of microplastics in the north Pacific Ocean in 2014, and we are currently finding tiny microplastics throughout the waters of the Arctic Ocean. Simply put, plastics of all sizes, shapes and kinds are found everywhere in the Canadian aquatic environment.
Second, plastic is being consumed by all creatures, big and small. Everywhere we look, we find plastic: from rubber boots found in the stomach of whales to microplastics found in oysters. Our researchers even discovered that zooplankton, the foundational group of animals that sustain life in the ocean, are mistaking tiny pieces of plastic for food in the north Pacific Ocean. Plastic now appears to be found throughout aquatic food webs.
Third, plastic is harmful. In that, I refer to plastic pollution being harmful. Plastic is frequently confused for food by albatross and sea turtles—as we've known for decades—and it represents a serious conservation threat to several species and populations. Plastic can block or damage the gut; it can smother, suffocate or drown; it can entangle, slow down or get in the way; it can deliver a cocktail of endocrine-disrupting chemicals to the consumer. Simply put, plastic is not nutritious. Our marine mammal rescue team, together with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has been disentangling sea lions off the coast of British Columbia for several years, a costly and dangerous operation that is important but cannot deal with the many hundreds of marine mammals that are presently swimming about the ocean with packing straps, nets and lines around their necks.
Fourth, plastic pollution threatens the quality of traditional seafoods for indigenous communities on Canada's three coastlines. Coastal communities along our three ocean coastlines rely heavily on seafoods. In coastal British Columbia, we have shown that the average first nations consumer eats up to 15 times more seafood than the average Canadian. In the Arctic, this can be as much as 25 times more seafood than the average Canadian. This means that seafood is far more important to these individuals in these communities, and it means that plastic pollution in the oceans threatens the quality and safety of their seafood.
Fifth, plastic pollution is not just about unsightly litter. Litter and marine debris present obvious risks to sea life, but the smaller pieces of plastic, the barely visible or invisible to the human eye plastics, which we call microplastics, have emerged as a significant new concern over the past decade. Canada's leadership in banning the microbead, a deliberately manufactured microplastic particle, through CEPA regulations was novel and forward-looking, an easy win. It was low-hanging fruit, but while conducting research in the ocean, we rarely run into microbeads.
What we run into, rather, are broken-down bits of larger plastics. These are called secondary plastics or, in the case of very small ones, secondary microplastics. Where do these come from? There is evidence from our group and others that larger products and items like old bags, containers, shipping materials and microfibres from textiles are actually escaping their intended use or leaking into the environment.
Our plastics lab has partnered with Mountain Equipment Co-op, Arc'teryx, REI, Patagonia, Metro Vancouver, and Environment and Climate Change Canada to track fibres from clothing—that's right, clothing—from home laundry through municipal waste-water treatment plants to the ocean, using high-end forensic science technologies and study designs.
In 2018, we published the first study documenting microplastics in a Canadian waste-water treatment plant. That was here in Vancouver. In this study, we estimated that 1.8 trillion particles of plastic enter the plant every single year.
Some of this, of course, is very bad news, but I view the bad news as an opportunity. Bad news can lead to good news. Everyone seems to understand that we have a problem, be they school children or professionals, and this offers everyone today an attentive audience and an invaluable opportunity to engage and to lead. Every year, the world throws away 150 billion dollars' worth of single-use packaging materials. A sizeable reward awaits the innovator, and this is a leadership opportunity for Canadian industry.
I'd like to suggest that Canada can take advantage of opportunities in the following key areas.
Number one is innovation and collaboration. If we are to effectively tackle this problem, we'll need to identify the sources of plastics in the ocean so as to be able to track those back to source. This understanding is key to engaging the public, the private sector and waste management agencies, and it will support green design, source control, recycling and regulations.
Number two is expert advice. Science is needed to support the identification of solutions. This includes the application of engineering technologies and designs. Our approach at Ocean Wise has been to establish partnerships with industry and government to identify and facilitate solution-oriented opportunities. These include our microfibre partnership with apparel retailers, the hosting of stakeholder workshops, participation in G7 discussions in support of the ocean plastics charter, and invited presentations across Canada and around the world.
Number three is education and engagement. If we are to solve the plastic pollution crisis, we'll need to arm Canadians with a better understanding of the topic. Engaging Canadians of all walks of life should be a very high priority. We designed our plastic wise program with this in mind. Plastic wise was designed to reach millions of people in Canada and around the world through our Vancouver Aquarium exhibits, our digital stories and online content, our media interactions, and through lectures, panels and workshops.
I put it to you that the time is right. We have an audience. Canadians are waiting, and never in my career as a pollution expert have I encountered such a desire for answers, such an appetite for positive change and such an expression of interest from virtually every sector in society.
Canada can help with a cohesive, forward-looking approach that nurtures scientific discovery, industrial innovation, best practices, green design and a circular approach to the plastic economy. Plastic is not the only threat to the world's oceans, but it is a significant one. The plastic pollution crisis offers us a chance for creativity, discovery and innovation.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the members of the committee for providing the opportunity to speak about the leadership role that the beverage sector is playing in Canada to help build our circular economy.
We share the Government of Canada's goals to reduce waste and increase recycling. Our members actively participate in recycling programs across the country and use some of the most environmentally efficient packaging on the market.
The plastic beverage containers that our sector uses are made from PET, which is a lightweight, durable, 100% recyclable plastic material. It is one of the most valuable materials supporting Canada's recycling systems. Once collected, PET containers are recycled into several new products and packaging, such as new beverage containers, carpet, rope and upholstery fabrics. The reintegration of collected PET back into our economy reduces the need for raw materials, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and generates sustainable growth in the circular economy.
Because of the value of the packaging our members use, we have placed a high priority on collecting and recycling empty beverage containers. Across Canada, CBA members play a leadership role in the management of recycling programs in practically every province and are focused on collecting as many beverage containers as possible.
Our sector was instrumental in starting Canada's first-ever blue box program in Ontario, and we brought beverage producers together to launch Manitoba's highly successful recycle everywhere program. These are just two examples of the many provincial recycling programs that are supported with hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
As a result of our sector's leadership and our partnership with governments, Canada's beverage container recycling program collects and recycles more than 75% of our PET bottles. Although this rate far exceeds the overall plastic recycling rate, which is just 11%, our members are committed to delivering even better results.
The beverage sector has made significant global commitments to advance sustainable packaging, build the circular economy and reduce marine litter.
First, beverage companies have committed to making all plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's new plastics economy initiative.
Second, the beverage sector is supporting Closed Loop Partners, a North American investment platform that is advancing the development of recycling technologies and sustainable packaging. For example, it recently invested $3 million in Brantford, Ontario into GreenMantra Technologies for the recycling of fibre, film and plastic bags.
At home, CBA members continue to light-weight PET containers to reduce the amount of plastic needed to make each bottle. Additionally, our members have made individual commitments to increasing recycled content in their packaging as capacity expands for the processing of collected PET back into food-grade PET.
Those commitments, along with those made by other companies, are creating more demand for recycled plastics. However, to increase recycled content further across the economy, domestic capacity for processing collected plastic material needs to be expanded. Expanding recycling capacity is a key priority outlined in the national strategy on zero plastic waste, and it is an area where the federal government could indeed provide support.
As outlined in the G7 ocean plastics charter, the federal government has committed to “[i]ncreasing domestic capacity to manage plastics as a resource” and “strengthening waste diversion systems and infrastructure to...recapture the value of plastics in the economy”. The federal government could deliver on these G7 commitments by working closely with the provinces and supporting innovation, new processing technologies and facilities.
That support should help advance the implementation of the 2009 guidelines on extended producer responsibility that were drafted by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. All members of the CCME agreed that they would work towards the development of extended producer responsibility legislation and regulation. The goal of the CCME was to harmonize EPR programs. Still, many provinces have not begun to transition existing recycling programs into EPR programs. The federal government should use the opportunity of the June CCME meeting to outline a harmonized approach to EPR that provides the consistency needed for producers, while respecting the role of the provinces and territories in managing recycling programs.
I would like to conclude today by saying that this committee's study on this issue is timely and important. Again, I would like to thank members of the committee for the opportunity to speak today, and I look forward to your questions.
We're very pleased to be with you today on behalf of Canada's leading chemical and plastic resin manufacturers.
It will be no surprise to this group, but over the last year global citizens have demonstrated a very deep concern about plastic waste and marine litter. Last year, we took that as an opportunity to survey 1,500 Canadians, and we found that their views were very much in line with global attitudes—nine out of 10 Canadians surveyed indicated strong concerns about plastics.
While plastics and plastic litter are not a new issue for our industry and the work we've been doing—and Mr. Goetz just talked about that—certainly the speed with which public perception has changed caught our industry off guard. Our industry, both in Canada and globally, has responded very quickly and very meaningfully. The North American industry has struck a leadership position and made clear its support for a circular economy for plastics.
Ambitious goals have been established that would ensure that 100% of plastic packaging is designed to be recycled and recovered by 2030. We've also committed to working with all the other partners to make sure that by 2040 all plastic packaging is indeed reused, recycled and recovered. These goals were advanced before, but they fully align with the G7 ocean plastics charter, which was agreed to by Minister McKenna last year.
Additionally, this past January, our industry's global leaders launched the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. This was a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Business Council For Sustainable Development, and Circulate Capital. Industry endowed that alliance with $1.5 billion U.S. to kick-start marine litter prevention projects in key developing countries. Imagine that. In six months, the global industry got together, agreed that this was a difficult problem, and pledged $1.5 billion towards it.
If we turn back to our survey results, we know that a strong majority of Canadians feel that they as consumers are responsible for the plastic litter problem. That result echoes what you would've seen in the CBC Marketplace survey issued last week. Canadians report that despite having broad access to recycling programs, they are extremely frustrated by the confusing rules for recycling and how those rules differ from home, to work, to play.
In Ontario, there are over 250 different municipal blue box programs. This is very frustrating to people. Personally, I can share with you that it's very confusing. In my household, we have four university degrees, and another one on the way, and we spend endless time arguing about the proper approach to recycling.
It shouldn't be that hard. We have to find a way to better educate people and to make the system work. There are jurisdictions that outperform us by seven to one in the amount of plastic material and other waste recovered and recycled. Surely if Japan and Scandinavia can figure it out, so can we in Canada. It does not have to be so confusing.
This confusion and lack of consistency contribute to the nearly 80% of post-consumer plastics that end up in Canadian landfills. As the other speakers have said already, that's a terrible waste of energy and precious resources.
I know the public has concerns about the amount of plastic in their lives. Before proposing any measures or actions, I think it's important that this committee understand why we're seeing that tremendous increase in plastic in our lives, at about twice the rate of global GDP growth.
Much of this committee's work over the past year has focused on the pressing issue of climate change. In many instances, plastics are the solution to the climate change problem, and that is a key contributor to the drive in growth. That includes lightweight, high-strength plastic composites in the automotive sector, improved insulation in the building sector, enormous quantities of plastic resins that are vital to the production of renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels, as well as the very important role of plastic packaging in reducing food waste. I do hope you come back and ask the difficult question about why your cucumber is wrapped in plastic in your grocery store. Please ask that question.
We urge this committee to ensure that the proposed actions on post-consumer plastics do not undermine ongoing efforts to achieve our climate change objectives.
We're also aware that this committee has questions regarding chemicals in plastics, and we would ask you to reflect on the months dedicated to your review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, including Canada's world-leading chemicals management plan. We urge the committee to recognize that CMP is the appropriate process for considering the risks of chemical substances, including plastics, in any aspect of commerce.
Indeed, over the past several years, many of the substances that have been identified as possible concerns with respect to plastics have been assessed and, where appropriate, risk management actions have been implemented through CMP. These include BPA, phthalates, flame retardants, dyes, pigments, microbeads in personal care products—which we've just heard about—and more than 350 different plastic polymers. I could provide a longer list, but my point is to encourage this committee to place its emphasis on the areas that most need attention: improved plastic reuse, recycling and recovery. There would be very little value for this study to repeat the ground covered by your comprehensive CEPA review.
Instead, our advice to you is to focus attention on defining the appropriate role for the activities of the federal government to support the national zero plastic waste action plan to be delivered this June. From our perspective, we see three key areas for the federal government to play a role.
The first is certainly working with provinces and municipalities to better educate Canadians and to standardize the collection and the sorting, as well as the functioning of EPR markets for post-consumer materials.
Second, consider the needs and means to expand what we have, which is a paucity of modern recycling and recovery infrastructure across Canada. Many of the plastic materials going to the landfill could be easily recycled with investments in more modern infrastructure. We often hear people talk about black polystyrene, that we can't recycle that. Maybe you couldn't 20 years ago, but with optical readers in modern facilities now, it's just another material. It's very easily recovered, but you have to have more modern infrastructure.
Finally, we would encourage this committee to forgo short-term actions on bans covering a limited range of plastic products. This will distract attention from the need for a very comprehensive shift to a circular economy for plastics and could lead to unintended environmental outcomes.
I'll conclude by saying again that the study by this committee is very important and welcome. We thank you for this opportunity to share our perspectives, and we certainly look forward to whatever questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Indeed, Mr. Chair, I have introduced a bill that is in the next order of replenishment so it will be in front of the House for our deliberations. I may refer to it, particularly if you have questions about it, but I'll try to focus on the initiative and why I think it was important to this very important study that you're engaged in. Congratulations for taking this on now. I think the timing is excellent, given the momentum, as some of our friends here have talked about, not just within Canada but around the world.
The problem has been well stated. If we are able to recycle only 11% of plastics that go into the blue box, we have an identifiable problem. We have been running blue box recycling programs in this country for almost 40 years. This is a generation that has struggled—and I would argue, unsuccessfully struggled—at all levels of government to fulfill the promise of what it is when a Canadian buys a product, uses the product, and then seeks to recycle it, creating the circular economy that my friends have talked about. We are not fulfilling that promise right now.
Very specifically, what should the role of the federal government be? I think it's in setting the parameters and the rules. The federal government, I would argue, might not be well suited to start dipping into every recycling program within the country in every jurisdiction and every town and city, deciding what exactly their recycling program needs to look like, but we can certainly talk to industry and work with industry to set down the parameters of the products at the initial point of the plastic being manufactured. Because there are so many types of plastics available and so many are used for packaging, which is what my bill deals with, we don't have a consistent ability to promise Canadians that if they buy a certain product the odds of its getting recycled are very high.
We have also been relying—and my colleagues here would do a better job than I would—on foreign markets taking what we seek to recycle. That reality has shifted dramatically within the last number of years. With the recent changes in Chinese law and in some of the other receiving countries, Canada and Canadians can no longer rely on our recycled materials ending up somewhere else and being dealt with. Eighty-two per cent of Canadians want more done on this. As an active politician, though maybe not in the next round, I know the appeal of trying to get in front of issues and address issues that our constituents deeply care about.
From an economic point of view, we also have to realize that a successful and more efficient recycling program is very good for the economies of those countries that have been able to achieve much higher rates of recycling. I look to my friend from Toronto, and even with the issue of, say, contaminated plastics, which is about 25% or 26% of what happens in Toronto, for every 1% we take down—clean up the stream, if you will—we save Toronto taxpayers $1 million. With every 1% that we get better at what goes into those blue boxes and then ends up at the sorting centre, we can save that constituency $1million just in taxes.
The last time I appeared at committee was 14 years ago. I introduced a bill to ban phthalates, a plastic softener, out of products that were being given to children in Canada, because that particular chemical has an endocrine disruptor effect. That bill eventually passed unanimously in the House of Commons. What was important for me is that there was initial resistance from industry. I don't want to step on Mr. Masterson's toes, but there was a resistance saying that you can't replace or that replacements are worse. I think we need to be courageous in talking about how to make sure that everything that is manufactured can truly be recycled in this country and that promise is actually fulfilled. It is no one's fault but everybody's responsibility.
For those looking to pin the blame on industry, municipalities, the federal government or the consumer making choices alone, that's not correct. I put my recycling out on the curb this morning. I felt good doing it. I felt like it was the most natural and normal thing to do: go through the sorting, stand out there in the snow—which seems wrong on so many levels in mid-April—and then take it to the curb. Even though I've drawn up a private member's bill that I'm trying to introduce to make that process better, once I put it on the curb I thought my job was done. I feel like I ticked that box as a good Canadian citizen and that the plastic will go away and turn into something useful again, even though I've read the literature and come to realize that this process is not complete and the economy is not circular.
What can the federal government do? I think it's simply about understanding what is truly recyclable. I don't mean that it simply has the little triangle on the back with a number inside, but that it can be recycled legitimately in Canada. I think Mr. Masterson was referring to this at the end of his comments. Those plastics are what should be produced. Plastic packaging that can't be recycled, which is what I deal with, shouldn't be produced. I don't know why, given the plastic waste crisis that our first guest talked about, the plastic pollution crisis—I want to get the term correct—we would continue to say that it's acceptable that by the end of 2050 we will have more plastics in the ocean than fish, by weight.
It is, in fact, in its own way, an insidious circular economy. The plastics do come back to us. They don't come back to us in the form of products. We eat them; our children eat them. We consume them because they end up in the fish. They end up in the biosphere that we are a part of.
I want to be brief with my comments, because we have a lot of witnesses today.
I think that aspirations are good. I laud the current federal government for its aspirational statements of where we're getting to. We also need to have concrete promises to make that achievable, that we aspire to recycle this much by such-and-such a date. If we aren't fixing the upfront part of the problem, the production, and if we're not solidifying how to make sure that industry can work with us and then find a way to make sure that the promise is made complete, then they will remain aspirations. A future environment committee will be sitting here five or 10 years hence, on the eve of that deadline, and it will have to push the deadline off again because of whatever reasons/excuses may be available to it.
I want to end with this. I think that the statement on climate change, which this committee has spent a great deal of time on.... Right now, globally, 8% of all oil that we consume is used in the manufacturing of plastic. At our current rate of use, that will hit 20% of all oil produced in the world by 2050. It's both solution and problem, I would say, if one looks at it solely through a climate change lens.
Again, yet another argument for creating that truly circular economy when it comes to plastic is that single-use plastic, and the $150 billion of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans and in our landfills, is insidious. It's economically stupid, and it is going to cost us even more down the road.
I'll end there, Mr. Chair. I look forward to any questions folks might have about the bill or about any comments I have made today.
That's a great question.
As a scientist, I'm trained to identify problems and inform solutions. In my view, the solutions come from the private sector that designs and produces products and looks at the life cycle of that product, at the procurement and design of that product. Our intended target is also the general public: to improve consumer education and look at better recycling. I think an EPR national recycling framework would go a long way to reducing the complexity, and we heard about that from other witnesses today.
It's not our intent to preach. We're looking at the ocean and we're identifying issues in the ocean. We're identifying problems pertaining to microplastics and plastics. We're trying to use the best available science and innovation to track that back to source.
I think the basic discovery or curiosity that's driving our understanding of the problem is contributing to that team effort and allowing multiple players. I would point to our microfibre partnership with apparel retailers that we're working very closely with. They are very supportive of understanding the nature and scale of this problem. They were not aware of the issue in the past, and they would like to use a better awareness of that problem to inform their material design, procurement, life-cycle analysis, etc.
I'll simply end by saying that recycling must improve and can improve. There is an issue, because we always face leakage. We want to improve recycling, improve recyclability, but we always face a leakage.
I look at our great Canadian shoreline data from a couple of years ago, and 17,654 straws were found on Canadian beaches. That's a tiny amount of what actually went into the environment. There were 50,285 plastic beverage bottles, and 22,724 plastic bags. This is not done by people deliberately throwing these things out.
We need better recycling and more informed consumers. There is always going to be leakage, and that's a big concern of ours. At the end of the day, those seals, sea lions, turtles, albatross, baby salmon, zooplankton and beluga whales, and the traditional food for indigenous communities, are the things we have to use as a metric. That's not just semantic or goal-oriented. We need positive metrics.
We have to use those numbers and those risks to inform and strengthen our solutions—as I put it to you earlier—as a team. Plastics are in every one of our lives.
Let's start with the latest Conference Board of Canada research on Canada's waste management system. As a whole, we ranked 17th, which is pretty bad, but it's really bad when you realize there were only 17 countries ranked in that study.
We've talked a lot about the manufacturing system and the recycling system, and one of the gaps we have is in Canadians' lack of self-awareness about where we stand in the world and how we're doing.
I want to get back to Mr. Fast's comment about the economy, because I think that's an important piece. I'll take Ontario again as an example, because it's relevant to a number of members here. If the 25% that is diverted from the waste stream right now moved up to, say, 65%—which is achieved in many other OECD countries and some European countries we're familiar with—it would add $1.5 billion to the Ontario GDP. It would create upwards of 13,000 jobs. That's a number that most of us, as elected people, can really understand and appreciate the significance of.
Oftentimes we see this in terms of the cost and the impact on industry as it currently stands. I would argue that we also need to flip that around and say, “What is the current cost of inaction or of the status quo?” I'm not saying we are not acting, but are we acting aggressively enough? Are we making all of the smart moves? This is just from the economic lens, never mind the other two lenses. It also costs our fishing industry something in the order of $1 trillion a year. To a west coast MP, that matters.
You asked about other jurisdictions. The European Union certainly has been in the lead. We have also seen...not just on the producing side but on the receiving side. As I mentioned before, it's not just China. There are a number of other developing nations that traditionally received recycled materials from the west but are no longer receiving them and are changing their own standards.
You can look around globally. There are seven major rivers in the world that contribute most of the waste we see in the Pacific Ocean. We can say that this is a China problem or a Sri Lanka problem. Well, they didn't create the plastic, necessarily. They received it from us. Some of it was recycled, but a bunch of it wasn't. A bunch of it ended up in the streams that end up in the ocean, and we look at the gyre in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as a problem.
Getting back to Mr. Amos's question, the U.K. government has been very aggressive around banning single-use plastics. I've had drinks out of non-plastic straws. They worked fine. Ed and I will have to compare notes. You're not meant to reuse them over and over again. That might be too aggressive a Conservative position.
Hello to the east coast of Canada, one of our three very important coastlines. The billions and billions of dollars in terms of natural resources and commercial, sport, recreational and indigenous fisheries are something we want to protect.
The first point I would make in response to your line of questioning is that, once plastics are released into the ocean or into the environment, the genie has been let out of the bottle. We all do the right things, as you do—and thank you for doing so—in cleaning up where we can. That is an important activity; it does clean up a small amount. It generates data, and it gives us a direct channel of communication to Canadians. For example, last year we had more than 60,000 Canadian volunteers cleaning up more than 3,000 kilometres of shoreline.
That's important in terms of education and data collection. It does—you said it yourself—cosmetic justice to the big issue out there, and that speaks to the need to turn off the tap at the source to prevent these things from getting into the ocean. These huge ocean cleanups are worth exploring, but they're never going to address the problem. We really have to turn off the tap at the front end, and that's understanding where these things are coming from.
Of course, there are many different sources of plastics in the ocean. You mentioned the fishing sector's plastic: polypropylene nets, polyethylene pipes, tubes, lines, ropes, fishing gear of all shapes and sizes, often made largely of plastic. There are best practices on board vessels in terms of fishing as well as design, like the use of hemp, for example, as an alternative to polypropylene, and cleaning up of derelict fishing gear.
This is one example of macroplastic, large plastic items, that is really worth looking at. Derelict fishing gear is killing hundreds of thousands of seabirds, turtles, fish and marine mammals every single year—that's the ghost gear. There are really good programs in other parts of the world, and we're just starting to look down that pathway in Canada. I think that's very important to address.
Another point I would make is that, when we see a plastic bottle, a plastic bag, a net or a bottle cap on the beach, we can either clean that up or leave it there. My example is used to illustrate the life cycle of that item. If we choose not to clean up that plastic bag, it's going to be here five, 10, 50 or 100 years from now. It may not be intact, but chemically it's still going to be out there, because plastic is basically geological material. It's not going to degrade chemically; it's going to degrade physically into smaller and smaller bits of microplastics, translating that risk from charismatic creatures down into the zooplankton.
I think you touched on a number of points that are really worth taking home, and it really speaks to the need for better design and better practices in the field, certainly continued cleanup and investment in innovation and discovery that help us create a forward-looking, practical solution or a set of solutions that will help protect the Canadian economy.
I would say that, of course, as with all consumer packaged goods, we are at the will of the consumer. We buy and sell things in the marketplace, and that's what we do.
I would point out, however, that the move—not only in the beverage industry but in other companies and industries for consumer packaged goods—has been done for a reason. Although there are some great glass products out in the market and many of our members put out some of their products in glass, there's a reason that the industry moved away from glass, to a certain degree, many years ago. A lot of that has to do with environmental outcomes.
For example, for a majority of the manufacturers in Canada that use PET bottles for their products, the actual PET bottle arrives at the factory and is about this big. They use what they call blow mould technology at the facility, where the bottle is blown up. It's not trucked there like that. Just doing the simple math on the size, a lot more of those bottles can be put in one truck, as opposed to being put in five or six trucks, which dramatically lowers greenhouse gas emissions. For one bottle of the small tubes.... I think you would need about seven or eight trucks if those bottles were completely filled up. There's also a weight issue that affects greenhouse gas emissions as well.
The final thing I would say is that PET is a valuable resource when recycled. When we look at our blue box programs across Canada, we see that PET and aluminum are two of the most valued commodities. There is a lot of material that goes in the blue box that's not worth a lot in the open market, into the circular economy. Aluminum and PET are worth money. Where municipalities run the blue box system—in Toronto, for example—they keep that money from the sale of the commodities.
Thank you all for your presentations.
I have to say that I'm actually very disturbed by the discourse so far in this discussion. Everything has been focused on recycling, and we all know that the three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—start with “reduce”. I'd actually like to see a change to “reduce, repair, reuse and upcycle”. As long as we keep defaulting to recycle, we always think of downcycle, whereas if you think of upcycle, you're actually thinking of adding value, so that the product you're trying to recycle has a value that will incentivize people to take care of the product at the end of its life.
As I said, reducing has to be one of the chief goals here. The reason PET is so valuable is that the market keeps expanding infinitely. Therefore, the more you can get back, the better it is for your bottom line. I'm not trying to say that your bottom line isn't important, but reductions are vitally important.
The other concern I have—which hasn't been discussed but it was brought up by a previous witness, Dr. Liboiron from Memorial University—is that plastics actually have toxins that cling to them as they break down. This has always been a big fight I've had with the chemical industry and chemical management planning. We don't look at bioaccumulation. We look at the chemical in and of itself, as separate from that impact of bioaccumulation.
Mr. Cullen, do you not agree that reduction is really where we have to get to here, when it comes to plastics? That's how we'll actually solve the plastics problem in the future.
That's a really good question. Obviously, industry has a big part to play in this, and we are willing to step up, as everyone else on the panel has said today.
When it comes particularly to the consumer product goods side of the plastics debate, there is a big part for the consumers to play as well, and I would point to two things. In Ontario, for example, there is no harmonization of blue box programs across the province. In certain communities, you can put certain things in the blue box or recycling bin; in other ones you can't. That creates consumer confusion, and eventually someone is just going to pitch something in the garbage bin because they don't know where it goes, or they put the wrong materials in the blue box, which speaks to what, I think, Mr. Cullen said before about contamination.
On the second item, I would point to Ontario again. There has been no province-wide education program about recycling since the 1970s, when the blue box was put in place. Municipalities obviously do some. With the beverage industry, for example, in Manitoba right now with our new program, recycle everywhere, we're spending $1.50 per Manitoban on public education. You can't go anywhere without seeing our recycle everywhere logo, which has 90% recognition, which means it is the second most recognized logo in Manitoba, just slightly below that of the Winnipeg Jets.
Education plays a really big part in this, and that's the way you get the consumers to have more skin in the game: harmonization as well as education.
I think I can safely say that it's our opinion that it's all of us. We are all contributing to this problem, and we all have to increase our awareness and understanding of the issue and to step up.
If we look at Canadian shoreline cleanup data, we can find identifiable items like plastic beverage bottles, cigarette butts, bottle caps or sometimes pieces of polymer fragments, so there is clearly a consumer element to that, coming from activities on or in the water, or upstream in the watershed.
We know that there is a heavy aquaculture and commercial fishing fleet, and there are a lot of efforts right now to evaluate the potential role they play in releasing, surreptitiously or deliberately sometimes, plastics into the receiving environments.
A lot more awareness there.... I think this is a good opportunity for education, in particular with the activities on the water.
In terms of microplastics, one of the interesting discoveries we made is that in the Strait of Georgia we have over 3,000 particles of plastic in every cubic metre of sea-water. These are all microplastics, smaller than five millimetres. Most of those, 75% of those are fibres.
In our extensive surveys up in the Arctic with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and One Ocean Expeditions where we are collecting sea-water, we find that 91% of the microplastics up in the Arctic in sea-water are fibres. The majority of these, in both situations, are polyester.
So we are very interested in furthering our very good work with the textile makers and apparel retailers, and our work with the waste-water treatment plant operators, because we're really finding a significant release of microfibres into local waters from the clothing that we are washing.