Francis Scarpaleggia

Your member of parliament for


Francis Scarpaleggia

Your member of parliament for



Speech: plastics pollution in water

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House to discuss the motion this morning. As my colleague said, the government will support the motion.

Indeed, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a major chapter of the industrial revolution, one could say, around the petrochemicals industry, as we began developing plastics technology and flooding the market with products made of plastic. In fact, as I think has been mentioned, the production of plastic products has outpaced that of almost every other material since then.

To quote Erik Solheim, the former head of UN Environment, “Plastic is a miracle material. Thanks to plastics, countless lives have been saved in the health sector, the growth of clean energy from wind turbines and solar panels has been greatly facilitated, and safe food storage has been revolutionized.”

However, there is a disturbing flip side to this, which has also been mentioned by others in this debate. I will give a few examples of my own. Roughly nine million tonnes of plastic are entering the Great Lakes annually. Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, much of it thrown away within just a few minutes of first use. America, Japan and the EU are the world’s largest producers of plastic packaging waste per capita. Only 9% of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. Finally, if current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue, by 2050 there will be around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and the environment.

Plastic pollution is an environmental price we are paying for the miracle of petrochemicals. It is a monumental challenge for us all. This is nothing new, though. When it comes to the environment, all the challenges are monumental.

Still, there is hope. To paraphrase Erik Solheim, former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, the good news is that a growing number of governments are taking action on plastics pollution and demonstrating that all countries, whether rich or poor, can do their part and become environmental leaders.

Take Rwanda, for example. Rwanda is obviously not a rich country, but it took the whole world by surprise in 2006 when it banned plastic bags.

All countries can take meaningful steps to help the environment.

Motion No. 151 brings attention to Canada’s own commitment to, and progress in, addressing the scourge of plastics pollution. The motion calls on the government to combat plastic pollution in and around aquatic environments, specifically through regulations to reduce the industrial use of microplastics and consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics, including presumably through CEPA’s priority substances list. Secondly, the motion calls for annual funding for community-led projects and education and outreach campaigns. Some of these community initiatives have been mentioned during this debate.

My rising today to speak to this motion is in large part because of my ongoing interest in water policy, an interest that goes back to when I was first elected. I believe that water is our overarching, overriding environmental priority. What I mean is that water encompasses two of the world’s biggest headline environmental issues, namely climate change, which brings more frequent and intense flooding and drought; and secondly, chemical pollution, which impacts human as well as environmental health, and spreads with water flow. Taken together, these two issues relate to water quantity and quality, respectively.

When I think of water, two wise quotes come to mind. The first is “Water is the first principle of everything.” This is attributed to Thales of Miletus. The second is from Rachel Carson, who said, “In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference.”

Water policy is multi-faceted, and Motion No. 151 addresses one of the many important aspects of water policy. It is complex not only because it is multi-faceted, but also because it is multi-jurisdictional. The question of controlling plastic pollution points to this jurisdictional complexity, as so many levels of government must be involved, including at the international level, if we are to make meaningful progress on this issue.

Our government has already taken important steps to address the scourge of plastic pollution in water. At the most recent G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Canada was the force behind the ocean plastics charter. The charter commits Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K. and the EU to broadly take a life-cycle management approach to plastics, including working toward increased recycling and related public education efforts, as well as investing in research to find alternatives to currently used plastics, like organic water bottles, that do not harm the environment. I recently saw an example of a water bottle that completely biodegrades, and maybe that is the future when it comes to bottled water. The charter commits the signatories to investing in research and developing, for example, technologies to remove plastics and microplastics from waste water and sewage sludge.

Clearly, plastic pollution is not only about oceans. It is also about fresh water as fresh water carries pollution, including plastics, into the oceans. This realization has led to initiatives like NextWave, a non-governmental coalition founded by companies, including Dell, and an environmental group called Lonely Whale, which employs people living in coastal regions to collect discarded plastic within 30 miles of waterways to prevent it from making its way to the sea. So far, NextWave has focused on two types of plastic commonly found in marine environments, nylon 6 and polypropylene.

Recently, HP announced it would be joining the NextWave coalition. In fact, since 2016, HP has been working with locals in Haiti to collect a total 550,000 pounds of plastic, which the company has since used to create ink cartridges.

Among other things, the ocean plastics charter calls for direct government action to reduce the use of microplastics. I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard has mentioned that our government has banned the manufacture, import and sale of most toiletries that contain microbeads. This ban took effect July 1, and all are banned, with the exception of those contained in natural health products and over-the-counter drugs. However, as of July 1, 2019, the ban will include natural health products and non-prescription drugs.

However, in our multi-jurisdictional nation, progress on many public policy issues requires collaboration among the federal, provincial and territorial governments. That is why two Fridays ago, Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers agreed to work collectively toward a common goal of zero plastic waste through a Canada-wide strategy on zero plastic waste that aligns with the ocean plastics charter. As stated in the joint communiqué of the ministers, “Protecting our terrestrial and aquatic environment from plastic pollution is imperative for the health of freshwater ecosystems, and is also important as the water and litter flow directly into oceans.”

Finally, let us not forget the need for action at the grassroots level. Other speakers in this debate have mentioned the many initiatives involving citizens who voluntarily group together to clean up the shoreline. At this point, I would like to give a shout-out to members of the Lac-Saint-Louis youth council, and other young people, who came out with me this past September 8 to look for plastic debris along the shores of the St. Lawrence River in the southwest corner of my riding. I am speaking specifically of Harrison Kirshner, Malik Dahel, Melissa Potten and Philippe Guay.

Fortunately, our municipal governments are doing a good job of keeping the shoreline clean, but, nonetheless, we did find some items of plastic, such as plastic bags, plastic bottles, polystyrene and cigarette filters. If everyone works together, governments, NGOs, industry, and if citizens engage, I believe we will make some important progress tackling this terrible scourge.