The Canadian government unveiled a far-reaching plastics waste plan Oct. 7 that bans a handful of single-use products like bags and moves toward mandates for recycled content, producer responsibility and tighter regulations of other plastics.
Government ministers said they are were taking a comprehensive approach to improve management of waste and said their actions are needed to both raise low recycling rates and prevent plastic from getting into the environment.
But a Canadian chemical and plastics association argued against bans and urged the government to hold off on a particularly controversial element of the plan, to potentially put “plastics manufactured items” on a list of toxic materials under Canadian environmental laws.
While details remain to be worked out, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson said the government wanted to proceed on several tracks, banning single-use products that are problematic for recycling and litter control, as well as adopting measures to improve management of plastics overall.
“This is a comprehensive approach that looks directly to address the most harmful single use plastics while improving the way that we manage other plastics throughout their life cycle,” he said, noting that could include minimum recycled content requirements for new products and more responsibility on producers and sellers to collect and recycle plastics.
“This will spur investment in recycling infrastructure, it will drive innovation in product design and it will generate revenue,” he said, arguing that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8 million tonnes a year and create 42,000 jobs.
The proposal will enact a nationwide ban on checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and food ware. Wilkinson said regulations for those bans would be developed by the end of 2021.
‘Action is needed’
But the Ottawa-based Chemical Industry Association of Canada argued against bans and urged the government to give time for plans being developed to modernize recycling systems across the country, including with national waste legislation.
“CIAC supports the development of national waste legislation that will provide the appropriate authorities and the tools to support advancing a circular economy for plastics,” the association said. “Our goal, as a society, must be to properly manage and establish a circular economy for all plastic products.”
In particular, CIAC urged the federal government to delay a plan to list plastic products on schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which could declare them toxic.
In its Oct. 7 announcement, the environment ministry said it would release a proposal Oct. 10 that would add “plastic manufactured items” to schedule 1 of CEPA.
It said the designation was a “necessary step to managing plastic products” and would give it more authority to regulate pollution from plastics along the material’s life cycle.
Substances on the schedule 1 list can be officially labeled toxic, but CIAC said it’s urging the government to drop the label toxic and instead refer to it as something like substances that require additional management. CIAC said it believes the government is open to that.
The ministry pointed to low recycling rates — it said only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the country — as well as scientific studies from the Canadian government it said show negative environmental impacts.
“The problem is getting worse,” Wilkinson said. “Action is needed to ensure that plastics is kept out of our environment.”
But CIAC pointed to actions by Canada’s plastics industry, including commitments to have all plastics packaging be recoverable or recyclable by 2030, and to have all of it actually reused, recovered, recycled by 2040. It the industry employs 93,000 Canadians.
“Plastic does not belong in landfills or the environment, it belongs in the economy,” CIAC said.