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Why hasn’t Canada backed a UN treaty to tackle the rise of plastic pollution on a global level?

  • More than 40 eminent scientists and researchers from 18 of Canada’s leading Institutions, including University of Toronto, University of Alberta and the David Suzuki Foundation, join an appeal for a break in silence from Government on support for a vital UN Treaty on plastic.
  • Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is leading the call pressuring Environment and Climate Change Canada to urgently act to join over 70 per cent of countries who have expressed support for a global agreement on plastics.
  • Plastic pollution remains one of the most urgent threats to human and environmental health. Canada sends about 86 per cent of its plastic waste to landfill and exported almost four million tonnes from 1988-2016 but has so far been silent on its commitment to a global legal solution tackling the full lifecycle of plastics.


LONDON: The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has urged Canada to break its silence over support for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution.

An open letter urging action to Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has been signed by 42 of Canada’s leading scientists representing a diverse array of specialist research areas, from climate change and microplastics to fisheries and indigenous environmental health.

On 12 May, the Canadian Government announced the listing of “plastic manufactured items” under Schedule 1 Toxic Substances List of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

This is an important step in addressing the plastic pollution crisis, but EIA remains baffled as to why a country clearly committed to action on plastics through this legislative amendment remain tight-lipped over whether or not it supports a global plastics agreement which already has the backing of more than 70 per cent of the world’s countries.

It is hoped the country will send a positive signal at either the 12th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavik on 20 May or at the G7 from 11-13 June to show its commitment to protecting the planet and lead efforts towards an ambitious plastics treaty.

Canadians discard three million tonnes of plastic waste year, only nine per cent of which is recycled. The vast majority of plastics end up in landfill or are incinerated and about 29,000 tonnes finds its way into the natural environment.

After decades of failed voluntary efforts and a patchwork of incongruent laws and policies around the world, the issue of plastic pollution has only worsened. It has become increasingly clear that preventing plastic pollution requires something missing at the global level and all countries are needed to make it happen.

With two-thirds of countries including Vietnam, the EU, the 54 countries of the Africa Group, the Pacific Islands and the UK already expressing support for a global plastics agreement, question marks hang heavy over the Canadian Government.

Christina Dixon, Deputy Campaign Lead for Oceans at EIA, said: “Plastic pollution is widely recognised as one of the most salient environmental and human health crises of the modern time. From extraction of the fossil fuels used to produce it to its manufacture, use, and end of life disposal, the lifecycle of plastic severely impacts every level of biological organisation – from genes to ecosystems.

“We must tackle this as a global community with support from all governments or the world will fall short on implementing truly effective solutions to save our planet. We implore Canada to break its silence and back the call for a plastics treaty.”

Dr Max Liboiron, of Memorial University, Newfoundland, noted: “Our research has shown that plastics from Canada’s east coast drift to Greenland, Iceland and the western coasts of Europe from the tip of Scotland to the south of Spain. We need clear international cooperation and concrete goals to address global plastic waste flows.”

Sabaa Khan, from the David Suzuki Foundation, said: “Plastic is ubiquitous throughout land and water ecosystems in both visible and invisible form, infiltrating food webs and human bodies. It is widely recognised today that the way we have produced, used and disposed of plastics has profoundly affected ecosystem health and the enjoyment of human rights.

“Unless Canada and other countries begin to regulate the plastics lifecycle with these concerns at the forefront – and with a commitment to transparency, responsibility and accountability – the plastic pollution crisis will continue to rise.”



  • Christina Dixon, EIA Deputy Ocean Campaign Leader, via christinadixon[at]
  • Sarah Dickinson, EIA Oceans Communications Consultant, via sarahdickinson[at]



  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
  2. EIA is calling for a dedicated global framework – a legally-binding Treaty on Plastic Pollution – that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics from production and product design to waste prevention and management. What is needed is an adaptive framework that coordinates global action while catalysing national action, one that is responsive to science and national circumstances, with mechanisms and structures in place to operationalise and institutionalise commitments.
  3. Countries will meet at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in February 2022 to decide whether to commence negotiations on a plastics treaty. Before then, there are several critical milestones, including the Arctic Council meeting and convenings of the G7 and G20, where countries have the opportunity to build momentum and consensus on this important issue.
  4. Read EIA’s report on the need for a global plastics treaty at


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