Canada Over-Indexes on Concern about Climate Change and Waste Production; Under-Indexes on Air Pollution

The research, conducted in the lead-up to Earth Day, reveals that climate change and the environment, chosen by 19% of Canadians (up 4 points in the past 6 months) is among their top issues of concern, narrowly edging out poverty and social inequality (18%, down 4 points), and unemployment and jobs (18%, up 1 point) as the 5th most concerning issues in Canada.

At the top of the list are some perennial contenders: healthcare (37%, down 2 points) continues to dominate as the top issue, followed distantly by the economy (25%, down 3 points), housing (23%, up 3 points) and taxes (20%, up 1 point). Further down the list include issues such as immigration (13%, down 2 points), corruption (10%, up 4 points), and indigenous issues (6%, up 1 point), for example.

Reflecting on what Canadians consider to be the most important environmental issues facing Canada, at the top of the list is concern about global warming and climate change (48% in Canada, 37% globally), followed by dealing with the amount of waste we generate (43% in Canada, 34% globally) and air pollution (23% in Canada, 35% globally).

Other issues of relatively higher importance to Canadians include: future energy sources and supplies (23% in Canada, 22% globally), over-packaging of consumer goods (22% in Canada, 15% globally), water pollution (21% in Canada, 25% globally), depletion of natural resources (21% in Canada, 22% globally) and wildlife conservation (20% in Canada, 13% globally). Issues of less concern to Canadians include future food sources and supplies (14%), quality of drinking water (8%), flooding (6%) and soil erosion (2%).

The perceived importance of climate change in Canada, with 48% listing it among their top-three environmental issues, is well above the global average of 37%. In fact, Canada trails only those in Japan (52%), Spain (51%) and Germany (50%) in relative importance of climate change. Canada is on par with countries such as South Korea (48%), the United States (47%), and France (46%), but ahead of Great Britain (42%), Brazil (29%), China (26%) and Russia (7%).

Focusing in on a major contributor of pollution and waste, eight in ten (82%) Canadians are concerned about the overuse of disposable, non-recyclable products, on par with the global average (81%), behind concern in South Africa (93%) and South Korea (91%), but ahead of concern in Saudi Arabia (47%), Japan (64%) or China (73%).

Interestingly, Canadians are less likely than the average global citizen to believe that certain interventions would be effective at reducing the problems caused by unnecessary use of plastic and packaging that cannot be recycled, including:

  • Forcing local governments to spend more on recycling so that a wider range of items can be recycled: 44% in Canada say this would be effective vs. 46% globally
  • Higher taxes on supermarkets and shops which use a lot of packaging that cannot be recycled: 25% Canada vs. 33% globally
  • A tax on containers such as plastic drinks, bottles and disposable coffee cups that cannot be recycled to increase their price: 27% Canada vs. 30% globally
  • A public information campaign funded by taxpayers’ money to tell people about the issue: 16% Canada vs. 27% globally
  • The government “naming and shaming” supermarkets and shops which use a lot of packaging that cannot be recycled: 19% Canada vs. 26% globally
  • Big fines for households who do not recycle enough of their rubbish: 20% in Canada vs. 24% globally

When it comes time to take action themselves, a majority of Canadians say they’d personally be willing to take some steps to reduce problems caused by unnecessary use of plastic and packaging that cannot be recycled, including: re-using disposable items (63%), and buying products made from recycled materials (53%).

But only a minority are willing to stop buying goods that have non-recyclable packaging (36%), stop going to shops that use a lot of non-recyclable packaging (15%), pay extra for good made without non-recyclable packaging (12%), or pay more tax so that recycling facilities can be improved (13%) – which calls into question just how committed Canadians really are to reducing their non-recyclable waste.

Thinking about who is responsible to find a way to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging which is sold, one quarter (25%) of Canadians believes it falls to companies who produce these products. Others believe it falls to government (9%), companies that sell packaged goods (9%), or consumers themselves (5%). Nearly half (44%) of Canadians believe all of these groups have a role to play in reducing unnecessary packaging.