The federal government prohibits companies from importing or manufacturing plastic bags and takeaway containers at the end of this year, to sell them at the end of next year and to export them at the end of 2025.
The measure will also affect single-use plastic strawsstir sticks, cutlery, and six-pack rings used to join cans and bottles.
“Our government is on board when it comes to reducing plastic pollution,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said at a news conference on a beach on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec City on Monday.
The Liberal government aims to eliminate all plastic waste by 2030 so that it does not end up in landfills or as litter on beaches, rivers, wetlands and forests.
Federal data shows that in 2019, 15.5 billion plastic grocery bags, 4.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, 3 billion stir sticks, 5.8 billion straws, 183 million six rings and 805 million takeout containers.
Bags, takeout containers and straws are among the 10 most common items found during shoreline and beach cleanups in Canada, along with bottles, bottle caps, coffee cups and cigarette butts.
A 2019 Deloitte study found that less than a tenth of the plastic waste Canadians produce is recycled. That meant that 3.3 million tons of plastic were being discarded a year, almost half of all plastic packaging.
Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s oceans and plastics campaign, said banning the six items is a step forward, but she disagreed that it’s a sign that Canada is fully engaged in plastic waste, as Guilbeault claimed. .
King said the six items on the list account for only about five percent of the plastic waste Canada generated in 2019.
“It’s a drop in the ocean,” he said. “Until the government gets serious about overall reductions in plastic production, we won’t see the impact we need to see on the environment or our waste streams.”
King said recycling won’t solve the problem and the only way to end plastic waste is to stop producing most of the plastic.
Canada ‘leader of the pack’ on single-use plastics ban, talks export ban: Minister Guilbeault
France, which banned most of the items on Canada’s list last year, has begun to gradually ban plastic packaging for more than 30 fruits and vegetables this year. It is also in the process of banning plastic wrap used in newspapers, non-biodegradable plastic in tea bags and free plastic toys given to children with fast food.
Guilbeault acknowledged that Canada is not the first to ban plastics, but insists it is among the leaders. He also said additional items may be added to the list, but overall, she said, “I don’t think we can ban our way out of plastic pollution.”
“Banning certain items is certainly part of the solution, but regulation to ensure that companies that produce plastics increasingly use recycled plastic as part of their content is also part of the solution,” he said.
Canada to ban certain imports and manufacturing of single-use plastic by the end of the year
The Deloitte report found that part of the problem is limited demand for recycled plastic. Canada intends to enact rules to force businesses to use recycled plastic, in a bid to increase recycling.
“We have not closed the door on banning other single-use plastics,” Guilbeault said. “We started with these because, based on the data we have, these are the most harmful plastic substances, but it may be the case that we decide in the near future to ban some others.”
The final regulations released Monday do not rule out some plastic alternatives to the banned items. Some beverage makers, for example, have already replaced rings on six-packs with shrink wrap, which is not affected by Monday’s announcement.
Olivier Bourbeau, vice president of federal affairs for Restaurants Canada, said the government must do more to ensure alternatives to banned items are readily available.
Bourbeau said there are supply chain issues at play, noting that a restaurant chain with dozens of restaurants in Ontario and Quebec only gets half of its orders for non-plastic takeout containers, and those containers they cannot have the restaurant logo.
“No one knew that supply would be so problematic,” he said.
He said the government needs to work with suppliers to make sure production can meet pending demand.
The plan to ban exports of the six items is a change from December, when the draft regulation was published. Several environmental groups were dismayed that Canada’s initial plan was to ban the items at home but continue to ship them abroad.
Biodegradable solutions to the global plastic problem emerging from the natural world
The ban itself was expected last year, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first floated the idea in June 2019. But COVID-19 delayed the scientific evaluation that was needed.
Six months after that evaluation, which ended in October 2021, the federal government classified the plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
A consortium of plastics producers is suing the government over the toxic designation in a case expected to be heard later this year. Canadian Press has reached out to that group for a reaction, but has not yet received a response.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have already taken their own action against plastic bags, as have some cities like Regina, Victoria and Montreal.
Some retailers have also moved faster than the government: Sobeys eliminated single-use plastic bags at its checkout lanes in 2020, and Walmart did the same last April. Loblaws announced Monday morning that he will ban the bags by spring 2023.
Many fast food outlets have also replaced plastic straws with paper versions in recent years.
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