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G7 Plastics Charter Depends on Voluntary Action, Environmental Groups Warn

A flurry of advocacy and news coverage on single-use plastics culminated Saturday in a deal by five of seven G7 leaders to voluntary curb plastic waste that is polluting the world’s oceans. Environmentalists said the decision was encouraging, but fell short of the binding agreement that will be needed to address the problem.

“Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a joint communiqué at the end of the summit that he and the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the UK agreed to a plastics charter that would deal with the pollution created by single-use plastics items like bottles, cups, and bags that have become everyday items of modern life,” CBC reports.

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The final summit communiqué recognized that plastics “play an important role in our economy and daily lives, but that the current approach to producing, using, managing, and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the marine environment, to livelihoods, and potentially to human health.”

That prompted Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna to tweet that “five countries agreed to a @PlasticsCharter, which speaks to our common resolve to eradicate plastic pollution. This is an important step towards achieving a life cycle economy, in which all plastics would be recycled and repurposed.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged C$100 million to support the effort.

But environmental groups warned that a voluntary, non-binding agreement won’t be enough to address a continuing wave of single-use plastics that presents a serious threat to the world’s oceans (as well as creating an alternate source of demand on which fossil companies are betting heavily).

“Recycling alone will not solve this problem, and reduction measures are necessary if we are serious about curbing ocean plastics,” said Greenpeace Canada campaigner Farah Khan, who called for federal legislation to set reduction targets, ban single-use plastics, and hold corporations responsible for the plastics they use.

Ashley Wallis, water and plastics program manager at Environmental Defence, added during the summit that Canada’s plans on the issue were not entirely clear. “At this point, all that the minister has really said is that this is an issue—which we knew,” she told National Observer. “Canada is focused on it and is planning to do something, but there’s still a lack of concrete detail.”

In the lead-up to the summit, a coalition of dozens of environmental groups called on Canada to aim for an 85% recycling rate for single-use plastics by 2025—a steep jump from today’s threshold of 11% for all plastics. “They also want Canada to implement a rule requiring all single-use plastics to be made of at least 75% recycled material,” The Canadian Press reported last week.

“Other items on their list are legislation to require producers of plastics to pay to collect and recycle the plastic they produce, and a regulation to ban any plastics or additives to plastics that are toxic or difficult to recycle. They also want Canada to implement policies for federal procurement that require anyone selling or providing a service to the federal government to have a plan to recover all plastics used, and that the plastics used contain at least 75% recycled content.”

CP said McKenna had launched consultations on a national plastics strategy in April, with no published deadline for results. Wallis said she’d like to see at least an outline of Canada’s domestic plastics plan by the time G20 leaders convene in September.

Elsewhere, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to abolish all single-use plastics by 2022, the International Olympic Committee offered up its “biggest commitment ever” to fight plastic pollution, and Ikea said it would phase out single-use plastics by 2020.