Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Demonstrators march through Ottawa, call for end to plastic pollution | CBC News

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Demonstrators from around the world marched through Ottawa’s downtown core Sunday demanding an end to plastic pollution and a reduction in single-use plastics.

The march took place ahead of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee’s fourth meeting (INC-4) on plastic pollution, which is set to begin Tuesday in the nation’s capital.

In 2022, 175 nations of the UN Environmental Assembly voted to develop a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution, with the goal of forging a draft agreement by the end of 2024.  

They also established the negotiating committee, which has since met three times and convenes again in Ottawa from April 23 to 29.

According to organizers, the goal of Sunday’s March to End the Plastic Era, as it was called, was to remind negotiators of the people affected by plastics — particularly Indigenous peoples. 

Key demands include reducing pollution across the entire life cycle of plastics by limiting their production, as well as supporting non-toxic recycling and implementing regulations on plastic waste trade.

“If we don’t centre our people in these negotiations and these talks, then it’s going to be to the detriment of Mother Earth,” said Suzanne Smoke, the outreach co-ordinator for the Society of Native Nations, addressing the crowd of protesters.

Plastic production and waste is set to triple globally by 2060, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. As much as 37 million tonnes of plastic pollution could be entering the oceans every year by 2040.

In Canada alone, more than three million tonnes of plastic are tossed out annually, with only nine per cent of that being recycled.

This week’s conference is a step toward ending plastic pollution by 2040, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said in a press release.

“The rate at which we are all consuming plastics is simply unsustainable, and it is only by rallying together that we can solve it,” he said.

“We are taking some big steps at home to cut the amount of plastics that go into landfills and the environment, but tackling this problem can’t happen without a global solution.”

Aeshnina Azzahra, 16, came all the way from Indonesia — where she is an activist trying to clean up plastics from local rivers — to attend a march and rally in Ottawa on April 21, 2024, ahead of plastics treaty negotiations set for later in the week. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Some countries ‘blocking progress’

Environmental Defence, one of the groups behind Sunday’s rally, said it’s disappointed in the progress the committee — which last met in Nairobi, Kenya — has made so far. 

“A certain number of countries are, I would say, blocking progress and [are] very much supported by the petrochemical and plastics industry who don’t want to see change,” said Karen Wirsig, Environmental Defence’s senior program manager for plastics.

“But the world really cannot sustain this use of plastics that we have.”

Wirsig said Canada has made gains through projects like the federal plastic ban, though it’s currently in the midst of a court challenge and appeal process.

Still, Wirsig would like to see more. 

“We need to see Canada step up on measures, global measures, that Canada would also follow to control and start cutting down on plastic production and use,” she said. 

“Instead, what we’re seeing from Canada is, you know, continued subsidies to plastic production and petrochemical production.”

Plastics don’t go away, say protestors

Many of the international guests at the rally spoke of the effects plastics are having on their communities. 

Aeshnina Azzahra, 16, travelled from Indonesia where she is an activist trying to clean up plastics from local rivers.

Azzahra said many of the items she’s found come from western countries that are sending their waste to developing nations — an issue she’d like to see addressed in any treaty.

“Their plastic waste is usually being burned, and it will contaminate the free-range chicken eggs, and we will eat those eggs also. The plastic waste will be also dumped to the river,” she said.

“The developing countries — especially in my country, Indonesia —  we don’t really have good waste management. We still have a lot of waste problems, plastic problems. So please, don’t add more burden to us.”

The rally also comes the day before Earth Day, with the theme this year being “planet vs. plastics.”

Many people don’t realize how pervasive microplastics in particular can be, said Tom Cosgrove, chief creative and content officer at earthday.org.

“It’s crossed into our blood, it’s in our heart, it’s in our lungs, it’s in our food supply, it’s in the air we breathe. It’s everywhere,” Cosgrove said.

“So we’re really trying to push for a reduction in plastic production — 60 per cent by 2040 — because we really feel … the only way to attack the problem is [to] make less plastics.”

Ottawa Morning9:17Weekend rally highlights need to curb plastic pollution ahead of UN plastics meeting

Hear from demonstrators at the march in Ottawa and a senior plastics campaigner at Oceana Canada, Anthony Merante.

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