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An International Plastics Treaty Could Avert a “Silent Spring” for Our Seas

Global problems — like our plastic-choked seas — need global solutions.

It was welcome news when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will use its year-long G7 presidency to turn the global spotlight on ocean plastics and pollution. 

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said plastics will be a main theme of June’s summit when leaders from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States join Trudeau in Charlevoix, Quebec.

But can Canada move these nations to establish enforceable rules?

The G7 has raised the plastics issue before. The Germans launched an action plan to combat marine litter in 2015 and Japan reaffirmed the commitment to address the problem in 2016. 

During the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos later that year, headlines blared “More Plastic than Fish in the Sea by 2050” after the release of a report on global plastic waste. In 2017, Italy held a workshop on marine litter during its G7 presidency.

Promises proliferate while plastic waste piles up

But despite these promises, plastic production and waste continues to grow

Globally, millions of metric tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean each year. In 2010, for example, between 4.8 million and 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic hit the water. That’s equivalent to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into marine waters every minute.

Alarmingly, production of single-use plastic, like grocery bags, contributed nearly 40 per cent of total plastic production in 2015. Many end up in our oceans.

Boris Worm, a marine scientist at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has warned that if current trends continue, we’ll face a new “Silent Spring” of the seas. Today, close to 90 per cent of seabirds have plastics in their guts, similar to the ubiquitous presence of the toxic chemical DDT in the 1960s, the focus of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. 

These voluntary international pledges are failing to stem the plastic tide.