The subject of plastic pollution in the public discourse is as ubiquitous as the challenge itself. Canadians and other global citizens have recognized that the lifecycle impact of plastic materials on our natural environment is a growing concern and are increasingly leaning on governments to demonstrate leadership in tackling this issue.
During Canada’s 2018 G7 Presidency the federal government led an international initiative to address marine plastic litter culminating in the development of the Ocean Plastics Charter, which commits to moving towards a more resource-efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics. The Ocean Plastics Charter was initially signed by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union. It has since been signed by Jamaica, Kenya, the Marshall Islands, Norway, Mexico, the Netherlands, and others, as well as by notable corporate leaders including Coca-Cola, IKEA, and Unilever.
On June 10, the one-year anniversary of the Ocean Plastics Charter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Government of Canada will take steps to reduce Canada’s plastic waste and promote the use of affordable and safe alternatives, including the banning of harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021, should a Liberal government be re-elected.
The measure announced contained initiatives to be implemented post-election, along with others initiated following the announcement, which are outlined below:
- Introduce the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge to Invest in New Canadian Technologies
Helping small businesses across the country find new ways to reduce plastic waste and turn waste into valuable resources supporting a circular economy.
Seven challenges have been launched so far under the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge, providing more than $10 million to 18 Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises. These businesses are working to reduce plastic waste from food packaging, construction waste, marine vessels, and fishing gear. They are also improving plastic recycling through artificial intelligence and refining technologies for bioplastics.
- Reducing Plastic Waste from Federal Operations
Strengthening policies, requirements, and guidelines that promote sustainable federal government procurement practices.
The Government of Canada has committed to: (1) divert at least 75 per cent of plastic waste from federal operations by 2030; (2) eliminate the unnecessary use of single-use plastic use in government operations, meetings and events, and (3) when procuring products that contain plastics, promote the procurement of sustainable plastic products and the reduction of associated plastic packaging waste. These changes will promote the purchase of goods and services that use reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastics or contain renewable or recycled plastic content.
3. Launching Canada’s Plastics Science Agenda
Accelerating research along the lifecycle of plastics and on the impacts of plastics pollution on humans, wildlife, and the environment.
The Government of Canada will support evidence-based decision-making and innovative approaches to sustainable plastics production, recycling, and recovery. Canada’s Plastics Science Agenda will also identify priority areas for multi-sector research partnerships to help achieve Canada’s zero plastic waste goals.
Key elements announced that will be carried out should the Liberals get re-elected include:
Ban of Harmful Single-use Plastics
Banning harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), and taking other steps to reduce plastic waste where supported by scientific evidence and when warranted.
According to Sean Casey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, a Liberal Government would implement benchmarks over time with a schedule for provinces to meet. Each province is to create their own plan on how to meet the targets. The ban would reduce pollution from single-use plastic products and packaging – such as shopping bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks – that science indicates are harmful to the environment and human health, where warranted. The specific products and measures included in the ban will be determined following a State of the Science assessment on plastic pollution in the environment, which is already underway and will include a peer review, public consultations, and socio-economic considerations. Additional regulatory actions could include requiring products to contain a set amount of recycled content or to be capable of being recycled or repaired.
Introduce Standards & Targets for Extended Producer Responsibility Programs
Ensuring that companies that manufacture plastic products or sell items with plastic packaging are responsible for managing the collection and recycling of their plastic waste.
Under an EPR program, companies making products are responsible for the end-of-life management of their products and packaging. According to the Government of Canada, EPR shifts responsibility upstream in the product life cycle to the producer (i.e. brand owners, first importers or manufacturers) and away from municipalities and general taxpayers.
If re-elected, a Liberal Government would work with provinces and territories, through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, to support the development of consistent EPR programs across the country. A Liberal Government would also work in collaboration with provinces, territories and industry to set targets for plastics collection, recycling, and recycled content requirements.
Conservative Party Platform Commitment on Plastics:
- Ban the export of plastics waste unless it can be shown that it will be recycled at its destination and impose tough penalties for violations.
- Work with provinces, territories, plastics producers and other stakeholders to develop a nationally harmonized regulatory regime for plastics recycling including elements of extended producer responsibility and harmonized standards for products and packaging containing plastic.
- Work with producers to minimize the plastic packaging of products.
- Work with provinces and territories to reduce waste and to increase the recovery of clean energy products and other valuable by-products from existing waste.
NDP Platform Commitment on Plastics:
- Ban single-use plastics across Canada by 2022;
- Hold companies responsible for the entire lifecycle of their plastics products and packaging
- Help municipalities improve their waste management and recycling programs and work towards a zero-waste future.
On Monday September 16th, Elizabeth May unveiled the Green Party Election Platform 2019. A Green Government would implement a number of measures regarding plastics including:
National Strategy on Plastic Pollution: develop in consultation with provinces and territories to be implemented and legislated over 10 years
Plastics lifecycle advisory group: to provide guidance and recommendations in establishing plastics biodegradability, recyclability and sustainability standards.
Microfibers & microplastics: Adopt a precautionary approach to limit production & use of persistent contaminants in plastic.
In consultation with food distributors and sellers, set 2022 reusable and refillable packaging targets for supermarkets and other food stores.
Single-use plastics: By January 2022, ban the production, distribution and sale of all unnecessary or non-essential petroleum-based single-use plastics, including: carry-out and produce bags, balloons, straws, plates, cups, lids, cutlery, cotton buds, drink stirrers, cigarette filters, and plastic water bottles (less than four litres); packaging, including multilayer packaging, packing straps, all multipack rings, takeaway packaging, and all expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) packaging; and all single-use plastics that are not easily recyclable or have additives that make them non-recyclable, including thermoset plastics.
Extend the ban on microbeads to include household and industrial cleaning products.
By 2021, require all new washing machines sold in Canada to have a removable, cleanable filter to capture micro-fibres that otherwise pass through water treatment plant filters and into water bodies.
Extended producer responsibility program: Implement to hold manufacturers financially responsible for the waste associated with the production, distribution, packaging and end of life of their products.
Require an increasing percentage of recycled plastic feedstock in durable plastic products.
Require all products to be fully recyclable using readily available processes.
Phase out Canada’s export of solid waste to other countries. If we produce it, we should manage it.