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Federal Ban on Half-Dozen Plastic Products to Take Effect This Year

It’s the end of days for plastic grocery bags and Styrofoam takeout containers in Canada.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault published draft regulations late last year outlining how Canada will ban the manufacture, sale, and import of these items, along with plastic cutlery, stir sticks, straws, and six-pack rings, by the end of this year, The Canadian Press reports. The banned products can still be manufactured in Canada for export.

The news landed just as countries prepare to gather in Nairobi, Kenya in February to advance a global treaty to control plastics pollution, Inside Climate News writes.

The Canadian regulations outline how each of the products is to be defined—plastics bags, for example, are those made of plastic film which will break or tear if used to carry 10 kilograms back and forth 53 times.

Cutlery includes forks, knives, spoons, sporks, and chopsticks that will start to melt if immersed in hot but not boiling water.

There are some exceptions for single-use plastic flexible straws to accommodate people with disabilities and those needing them for medical purposes.

The public can provide written comment on the draft regulations until March 5, and the timing of the final regulations will depend on how much feedback is received. Under World Trade Organization rules, Canada must allow a six-month phase-in period once the final regulations are published, but Guilbeault said he expects them to take effect by the end of 2022.

He said the ban is only part of the story because what isn’t being banned has got to be recycled.

“I mean, rightly so, a lot of people are focusing on the ban and that’s important,” he said. “But one of the bigger challenges we have is to get our house in order when it comes to recycling.”

A 2019 Deloitte report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada said 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste was tossed in 2016 and less than one-tenth of it was recycled. Moreover, in an opinion piece, Environmental Defence Canada warned that many of the plastics recycling program on offer from industry amount to energy-intensive greenwashing.

At the time of the 2019 Deloitte report, CP says, Canada had only 12 recycling companies nation-wide. The country set a target to recycle 90% of plastic waste by 2030, and Guilbeault said there is work under way to standardize and coordinate recycling across provinces. Standards for plastics to make them easier to recycle, as well as a requirement that half of all plastic packaging must be made of recycled material, are also coming, he said.

In 2016, almost 30,000 tonnes of plastic waste ended up in the environment, polluting rivers, beaches, and forests with discarded coffee cups, water bottles, grocery bags, and food wrappers.

“People are tired of seeing this litter in our streets, and I think some of the powerful images we’ve seen around the world of plastic waste affecting our ecosystem has really gotten to people,” Guilbeault added. “So they want us to move, and we’re moving.”

Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s oceans and plastics campaign, said the government is moving too slowly and isn’t going far enough. King wanted to see all single-use plastics banned, including plastic bottles, cigarette filters, coffee cups, and food wrappers.

“Canadians have been waiting a long time for the federal government to take strong and urgent action to tackle plastic waste and pollution, and these regulations definitely don’t reflect that call to action,” she told CP.

King said the government must also focus its energy and money on a shift from single use and recycling to reuse-and-refill strategies.

In June 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a ban on single-use plastics would be in place as early as this year. But the pandemic delayed the scientific assessment that ultimately declared plastics as “toxic”, as well as the detailed work on which ones to target.

In May, companies came together under the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition, which has now sued the government over the toxic designation.

The coalition argues the designation is defamatory and harmful to its industry, which produces many crucial products that are not harmful. In late December, spokesperson for the coalition said the government should have waited until that case has concluded before moving on the ban.

Guilbeault said the lawsuit has no effect on the regulatory progress, “just like the lawsuit on carbon pricing didn’t interfere with us implementing carbon pricing in Canada.”

The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press December 21, 2021.