The Complexity of Canada’s Plastics Ban

Posted by on Jan 12, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

The national ban on single use plastics (i.e., plastics that will not be recycled) was supposed to have taken place in 2021. That did not happen, perhaps owed to the ongoing global battle with the pandemic.

However, on December 21, 2021, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Health announced draft regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) banning certain single-use plastics deemed to be harmful.

What paved the way for the ban was the May 12, 2021, Final Order adding a Toxic Substance (plastic manufactured items), to Schedule 1 of the CEPA.  This was done in order to designate “plastic manufactured items” as “toxic” under Schedule 1 of the Act.

According to Osler Law Firm, “This step enables the federal government to propose risk management measures to prevent plastic pollution, including regulating the quantity of plastic items produced in Canada, and how these products are to be processed, exported, stored, transported, and packaged. These measures may also include an extended producer responsibility policy.”

Legal Challenges

The designation of plastic manufactured items as toxic is being challenged in court by an industry coalition.  According to BLG Law Firm, “The lawsuit argues that the federal government is attempting to extend federal regulatory powers to areas within the jurisdiction of the provinces – particularly, waste management. It likewise takes issue with the sufficiency of the Science Assessment, which is a literature review rather than a scientific, risk-based assessment that includes testing of whether plastics are toxic under CEPA.”

Plastic Pollution

Managing plastic waste  is a global concern.  Will the proposed ban on certain plastics help reduce waste (Image by H. Hach from Pixabay)?

Plastic Production in Canada

Environment and Climate Change Canada oversaw a study entitled “Economic Study of the Canadian Plastics Industry, Markets, and Waste.” In this report, they state, “With total sales estimated at CA$35 billion, plastic resin (CA$10 billion) and plastic product (CA$25 billion) manufacturing in Canada accounts for over five percent of the sales in the Canadian manufacturing sector, and employs 93,000 people across 1,932 establishments.”  Therefore, any regulatory changes that would eliminate the products produced in this sector is significant.

Banned Plastics

Assuming the law passes, the banned plastics will include:

  • six-pack rings,
  • straws,
  • stir sticks,
  • grocery bags,
  • cutlery, and
  • difficult to recycle takeout containers.

Missing from this list are water bottles. The reason, according to an article in the National Observer, is bottled water is considered a food product; its regulation is overseen by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Affected Businesses Comment

One of the business sectors that will be the most affected are restaurants.  According to CTV,  “Restaurants Canada, a not-for-profit association advocating for members of Canada’s food service industry, notes that the ban’s impact on these businesses will be significant with five of the six items included in the ban – plastic checkout bags, stir sticks, cutlery, straws, and food service ware made from problematic plastics – frequently used.”

“Part of the issue stems from difficulties in finding alternative options that are affordable, said (Olivier) Bourbeau (vice-president of federal and Quebec affairs for Restaurants Canada). This is especially challenging for independent restaurants. Not only have disruptions to the supply chain made it difficult to source sustainable alternatives to food service packaging, but restaurants in general continue to struggle to break even. Out of about 90,000 restaurants in Canada, half continue to be at risk of closing, said Bourbeau.”

Restaurants Canada also submitted a report to Environment and Climate Change Canada with respect to the proposed ban. In the report they outline their concerns with the timing of the ban juxtaposed against the challenges to the industry has faced with the global pandemic.

Other industries have voiced concerns as well.  From Waste 360: “The federal government is making regulatory change through a fast- track solution … but it has a wide range of unintended consequences. They are trying to ban [plastics], but the toxic designation does not limit to those six items [now being targeted]. So at any time they can add more to the list, which concerns the industry,” said Randi Rahamim, executive director Responsible Plastic Use Coalition.

Plastics Production and Waste

A global perspective of plastics and disposal of plastics is important because it is a global issue.  According to Our World in Data “In 1950 the world produced only 2 million tonnes per year. Since then, annual production has increased nearly 200-fold, reaching 381 million tonnes in 2015. For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population.”

The same source looks at global mismanagement of plastic by region. The worst offenders are East Asia (60%), South Asia (11%), Sub-Saharan Africa (8.9%), The Middle East (8.3%), and Latin America/Caribbean (7.2 %).  North America accounts for 0.9% of the global mismanagement of plastics.

The problem is both Canada and United States have historically sent the plastics overseas for recycling – where much of it ends up in landfills, rivers, and the oceans.

Baring a significant shift in policy, the proposed ban will likely occur later this year.  As we understand, the regulators will give industry a year to comply. Plastics have provided tremendous benefits to society over the decades, but there is no denying that there is a global problem with mismanagement of plastics. The question is how we best manage the global ecological challenge that is responsible, effective, and takes into consideration the economic impact on industry.

Environmental Help

We have been solving environmental problems for our clients since 1988. If you have an environmental matter with which you need assistance, call our Windsor, Ontario office at 519-948-7300 or contact Christopher Pare’, P.Geo. by email.

Follow Dragun Corporation on LinkedIn.

Sign up for our monthly environmental newsletters.

 Principled Foundation | Thoughtful Advice | Smart Solutions