The second in command at the federal Environment Ministry challenged Canadians to continue to speak up about the problem of plastic pollution and push elected officials, scientists and businesses to do more.

Quebec MP Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, made the comments online at Vancouver’s annual zero waste conference on Friday.

He said most Canadians want solutions to curb the tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic garbage that ends up as litter each year on the country’s beaches, parks, lakes and in the stomachs of animals. 

“Making sure that message is heard with industry stakeholders, elected officials and make sure that they are constantly putting pressure on it … so we notice that this is something that Canadians want, the backing of Canadians to go and undertake these huge challenges,” he said.

Schiefke filled in for  Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson at the last minute after Wilkinson was called away to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The federal government is set to introduce climate accountability legislation as early as next week to formally commit Canada to its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Schiefke said Canadians throw away about three million tonnes of plastic waste every year, much of which ends up in waterways, affecting wildlife and ecosystems.

“And we know that the problem is only getting worse,” he said during participation on a panel that included Chelsea Rochman, an assistant professor in ecology at the University of Toronto.

She has studied and written extensively on plastic pollution and, with other scientists, concluded that countries like Canada would have to reduce use by as much as 40 per cent in order for the world to make a significant impact on the amount of plastic floating in waterways. That would also have to include drastic improvements in recycling and cleanup.

“We call on the need for systemic change,” she said on Friday.

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