Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government on Monday laid out plans to regulate plastic waste as part of a national blueprint to reduce the amount of hard-to-recycle consumer packaging that has swamped city waste programs and is polluting Canada’s rivers and lakes. Trudeau spoke Monday at an event outside Montreal, QC. The federal government will look to ban as early as 2021 plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks were supported by scientific evidence and warranted, he said. “Canadians know first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution and are tired of seeing their beaches, parks, streets, and shorelines littered with plastic waste,” he said in a statement.

“We have a responsibility to work with our partners to reduce plastic pollution, protect the environment, and create jobs and grow our economy. We owe it to our kids to keep the environment clean and safe for generations to come.” Ottawa will begin a scientific evaluation to designate plastic waste as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the first step to imposing bans on disposable single-use items and introducing national recycling standards and targets.

The approach is a response to increased anxiety about plastic pollution and is also an acknowledgment that household recycling has not kept pace with the rapid spread of cheap consumer packaging discarded after single use: Only 9 percent of plastics are recycled in Canada. The official stressed that Ottawa must conduct its own scientific analysis before determining specific items to ban, but said the intent is to align with new European Union regulations, which take effect in 2021. The ban in Canada could encompass items such as plastic straws, coffee cups, and stir sticks.

The EU moved in March to ban 10 single-use items, including plastic cutlery, plates and Styrofoam food and drink containers. Lawmakers also voted to compel tobacco companies to pay for the public collection of cigarette butts, a major source of plastic litter. The federal government on Monday will also reiterate a commitment to work with provinces to implement policies to hold businesses that produce or sell plastic products responsible for collecting and recycling them, an official said.

Concern about single-use plastics and other consumer packaging has intensified after China last year prohibited imports of contaminated waste, cutting off a major export market for recycled plastics and pushing up costs for city programs. A number of countries have imposed similar restrictions.

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