Technological watch

Canada moves ahead on nationwide single-use plastics ban

Canada's government is moving forward on a nationwide ban on some single-use plastics, releasing detailed draft regulations Dec. 21 and saying it could bring the ban into force in late 2022.

The joint announcement from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Ministry of Health was met with opposition from industry leaders, who argued the bans would do little to address plastic waste problems.

But the two agencies said they're pushing ahead on their plan for a nationwide ban on plastic checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made from "problematic plastics," ring carriers, stir sticks and straws, and see it as the first step toward bigger changes.

"The proposed Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations are a big step forward in our goal to reduce plastic pollution and move to a circular economy for plastics," said Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change. "Smart, clear and collaborative regulations will help drive innovation across the country as reusable and easier-to-recycle items take their place in our economy."

In the statement, the government said it would review public comments and could make the regulations legally binding "as early as late 2022."

Canada's government first floated the idea of a national ban in 2020. But the proposal from Ottawa also goes beyond bans.

The government said the strategy includes longer-term proposals for plastic packaging to contain at least 50 percent recycled content by 2030, to recycle 90 percent of plastic beverage containers, for tighter labeling around recyclability and to have producers pay more of the cost of managing plastic waste.

It said that "plastics that can easily be recycled play an important role in the everyday lives of many Canadians," but added that only 9 percent of plastic waste is being recycled right now and said it wanted to take a broad, life cycle approach to plastic pollution.

The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada pushed back on the bans and called them feel-good measures. It said plastics are critical to health and safety.

"We believe bans of some single-use plastic items might make governments and consumers feel good in the short term, but do not solve the overall problem long term," CIAC said. "Industry is doing its part but investments in innovation and infrastructure will also have real and measurable impacts on keeping plastics out of the environment and in the economy."

Ottawa is also relying on a formal designation of plastics as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to move its plan forward, but CIAC said it was disappointed in that.

"While the government has exercised its authorities, we are disappointed that safe inert plastic materials that play such important roles in Canadians' lives continue to be labeled as … toxic substances or are being banned when innovative technologies like advanced recycling are available to manage their end of life," CIAC said.

Industry groups have challenged that CEPA designation in court. CIAC said it would continue working with the government on finding "viable, meaningful solutions to address plastics pollution."

The draft regulations allow Canadian companies to continue to make the banned items as long as they are for export, and it also contains some smaller exemptions, like allowing plastic straws to be sold to consumers in packs of 20 or more upon request and if the customers can't "view the package before purchasing it."

Publication date: 23/12/2021

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Last update: 2022-01-31