Canada plans ban on six single-use plastics in effort to tackle waste problem
The Canadian federal government announced in October plans to ban six very commonly used single-use plastic items by the end of 2021 to tackle a pollution problem that became more pressing after China banned plastic waste imports in 2018.
Canada’s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the ban is part of a broader plan to reach zero plastic waste within a decade that will also include making plastic producers responsible for waste. Only plastics considered both harmful to the environment and costly to recycle were listed.
The coming ban on bags and six-pack rings will affect polyethylene while the one on straws will impact polypropylene (PP). Bans on plastic cutlery and drink stirrers will affect both PP and polystyrene. Bans on plastic food containers will hit expanded polystyrene.
The Canadian government has asked for feedback by Dec. 9. The ban will not come into effect until the end of 2021.
The planned bans in Canada are part of an international growing tendency, said by telephone Ashish Chitalia, Wood Mackenzie’s research director.
“That is a trend that we’re seeing since 2018 as it all started when China banned the imports of plastic waste, and that has encouraged exporters of plastic waste, like North America, Europe, to improve their policies and reduce plastic waste at the source,” Chitalia said.
Industry to be responsible for waste collection
The China ban, “along with social pressure to tackle the plastic waste in the environment and landfills,” are encouraging regulators to consider stemming the plastic waste at the source,” Chitalia added.
Wilkinson said single-use plastics easier to collect and recycle were not included.
“The focus is on plastics that are particularly problematic, and that is particularly things like expandable polystyrene or Styrofoam,” he said.
For example, drink containers and lids were not included, Wilkinson added on an Oct. 7 interview with CTV News.
“The broader part of this plan is to make producers and vendors responsible for the collection and recycling, to set requirements in terms of the amount of product that has to be recycled, to require recycled content standards,” he said.
There is an urgent need in Canada to tackle the plastic waste problem, he explained. “Last year 29,000 tonnes of plastic ended up in our environment. Most of it in our lakes, our rivers, and our ocean,” he said.
Other plans include incentives to consider recyclability in product design, and mandating minimum recycled components in manufacturing.
“When we throw away plastics that don’t get recycled we waste C$8 billion worth of material every year so there’s an opportunity to make sure we’re making good value and good use of resources,” Wilkinson said.
Canadian plastic waste exports
According to a 2019 report by Greenpeace about Canadian waste exports following China’s import ban in the preceding year, Canadian plastic waste exporters have struggled to find destinations.
In 2015 Canada exported to China, including Hong Kong, 100,618 tonnes of plastic waste, according to Greenpeace. Then came China’s January 2018 ban on 24 materials, including eight plastics.
Since the ban, waste exporters have diverted shipping to countries including Malaysia, Taiwan and several others, but divided in smaller volumes, according to Greenpeace.
Results of a Greenpeace investigation of waste plastic found in unlicensed facilities in Malaysia detected Canadian labels in the plastic waste found there, the report said.
Greenpeace called on the Canadian government to meet obligations under the Basel convention on the control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal.
U.S. companies warn against ban
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent on Sept. 21 a letter to Mary Ng, Canada’s minister of international trade, undersigned by over 50 associations representing plastics from adhesives to vinyl, to warn that the ban undermines free-trade agreements.
“The proposed ban on any product containing plastic and manufactured in the U.S. clearly meets the definition of a non-tariff barrier,” the letter said.
A ban “would have a disproportionate trade impact, given the $12.1 billion of manufactured plastic that enters Canada from the United States every year,” it added.
“That is exclusive of other products (like cars, medical supplies and devices, and information technology products) that contain plastic components or goods that require plastic to prevent contamination, such as food,” it added.
“Such a precedent would create further incentives to ban trade by other governments, which could impact over $10 billion in Canadian exports of plastics and plastic products,” it added.
Industry concerned about ‘toxic’ designation
Both the U.S. and Canadian plastic industries object to the use of the word ‘toxic’ to describe plastics.
“Consumers would assume that every day and essential products that contain plastic are now toxic,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce letter said.
The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) on Oct. 7 shared the U.S. concern about the designation of plastics as ‘toxic’ and about using the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to regulate plastic disposal.
Wilkinson has said that if the issue around the word ‘toxic’ is one of nomenclature, the government is open to discussions but will not renounce efforts to protect the environment.
The CIAC has also shown concern about increased carbon taxation.
Canadian industry warns against ‘premature’ decisions
The Canadian government should not take “premature” decisions, the CIAC added.
Canada’s plastics producers are improving design for recycle and reuse models; and investing in recycling, it said.
The industry’s own goals aim for products becoming fully recyclable or recoverable by 2030, while all plastic should be reused, recycled or recovered by 2040.
Programs to eliminate plastic pellets release from industry operations into rivers and oceans will be in place by 2022.
Canada’s plastics manufacturers add C$28 billion to the economy annually and employ 93,000 Canadians, it said.
According to Wood Mackenzie’s Chitalia, the ban “gives an opportunity for Canadian producers of bioplastics to penetrate single-use plastics markets.”
By Renzo Pipoli