Covid-19 Waste Complicates Trudeau’s Single-Use Plastics Ban

(Bloomberg) -- Covid-19 is threatening to upend one of Justin Trudeau’s key environmental promises: tougher restrictions on plastics and chemicals.

The Canadian prime minister announced plans to phase out single-use items like straws and plates last summer, joining governments in Europe, India and California. The ban, which is still intended to take effect in 2021, featured prominently his Liberal Party’s campaign platform for the fall election that saw Trudeau returned to power in part because of his appeal to green-minded voters.

But the coronavirus has brought plastics back into favor. Manufacturers can’t produce personal protective equipment fast enough, including disposable gloves, masks, wipes and bottles of hand sanitizer. Most of it isn’t recyclable and crumpled up gloves and masks have become a common sight outside grocery stores and other retail locations, particularly as Canadian provinces begin to ease lockdown orders.

“This current pandemic is another example of our lack of reusable options,” Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s oceans and plastics campaign, said by phone from Vancouver. “There are alternatives in all cases to plastic and that is what the government needs to be focusing on right now.”

Trudeau’s team has yet to find a solution to the issue and recognizes that increased single-use plastic waste will be a challenge for Canada -- and the rest of the world -- thanks to the coronavirus.

A press secretary to Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Thursday the plastics ban remains on track but that considerations arising from Covid-19 will be factored in to the specifics of the roll-out.

With Canadians focused on staying healthy and keeping their jobs, banning plastic straws is hardly top-of-mind right now. But Trudeau’s legacy will be defined by how he balances his lofty campaign promises with the realities of governing amid an unprecedented economic and public-health crisis.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” King said, citing lingering doubts about the prime minister’s green credentials after his 2018 nationalization of the Trans Mountain crude-oil conduit. “The federal government is notorious for saying they want action on climate change and then buying a pipeline.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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