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William Shatner is a Canadian actor who played Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek. He is also the author of Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder.

When the USS Enterprise first set voyage on our screens more than half a century ago, science fiction was full of space pioneers racing to discover new reaches of the universe, their authors imagining what the future might look like.

As the face of one of those space pioneers for nearly 30 years, I have one message for world leaders: imagine a plastic-free future.

If Captain James Kirk visited Earth today, he might as well be returning to Planet Plastic. From the highest mountain tops to the deepest ocean trenches to the air we breathe and the blood flowing through our bodies, the forever substance has proven to be the ultimate winner of the longevity race throughout space and time. Plastic waste and microplastics in our oceans can now even be mapped from space.

What started as a curious invention has exploded into a planetary crisis. The amount of plastic the world has produced has risen from about 15 million tonnes to more than 300 million tonnes over the past half-century. In animal terms, we’ve produced 80 million blue whales’ worth of plastic since the 1950s. How many starships would that fill?

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I wish I could say this was all science fiction, but it’s not.

Reality speaks for itself. Of all the plastic produced each year in Canada and abroad, only about 9 per cent is recycled. The rest ends up in our landfills, incinerators, waterways and parks, entangled with our wildlife and enmeshed in our bodies. Marginalized communities, including Indigenous communities here in Canada, face disproportionate health effects from the plastics industry. For one example, look to the close proximity of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation to a petrochemical facility in Sarnia, Ont., where plastic products are made.

As the clean energy transition threatens the oil and gas industry’s pocketbooks, they’re making plastic production their lifeline. After all, 99 per cent of all plastics are made from fossil fuels. The Big Oil to Big Plastic pipeline is alive and flowing. In fact, if the industry has its way, plastic production could triple by 2050.

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But we have a once-in-a-generation chance to cut through their racket and focus on solutions that will match the scale of the crisis. Solutions such as cutting plastic production to keep oil and gas in the ground and keep our climate below 1.5 C warming, especially since plastic pollutes at every stage in its life cycle. Solutions like abandoning the fairy tale of recycling and instead lifting up accessible, more sustainable reuse systems that leave no one behind. Solutions that centre, affirm and uphold the rights of Indigenous communities and pave a path toward a just, plastic-free future.

That’s what’s at stake in Ottawa at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) at the end of April, otherwise known as the meeting during which a Global Plastics Treaty will be hemmed and hawed over by members of the UN’s Environment Programme. This is the fourth meeting out of five and the clock is ticking. We need governments to champion solutions based on science and justice: The treaty must cut plastic production and end single-use plastics to solve this global crisis.

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That starts with Canada. As the host country, our federal government has both a responsibility and opportunity to breathe new life into the talks and set an ambitious north star. And it’s well poised to do so. It already supported greater environmental protections and committed to better climate crisis goals, including one for Zero Plastic Waste by 2030. Now Canada must translate that globally, and bring other countries along to secure a strong treaty that will help achieve these targets. Like the steadfast captain I played, Canada and its guest countries must stay the course even as they face powerful opposition. And they must remain guided by the overwhelming majorities concerned about the environmental impact of plastic pollution. Canada must be supportive of urgent, bold action to end the age of plastic. All eyes will be watching.

INC-4 is going to be a choose-your-fighter moment. Will governments choose industry or communities? People and planet, or plastic? More than 48,000 people in Canada and 2.2 million people around the world have already made their choice and signed a petition for a Global Plastics Treaty that will cut plastics production. We know what Captain James Kirk would choose.

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