Single use plastic items to be banned in Canada

Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

CANADA – Canada has proposed a ban on single use plastic items in 2021 as part of its plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030. On October 7, Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of Environment and Climate Change (ECCC), announced a list of six items to be banned that include plastic bags, straws, stir sticks, six pack rings, cutlery and hard to recycle take out containers. “These items are harmful to our environment and their value is lost from the economy when they are tossed in the trash. This proposed ban will help drive innovation across the country as new and easier to recycle items take their place in our economy,” Minister Wilkinson said. 

“A science assessment found that plastic is causing significant harm to wildlife, particularly marine life, which too often ingests plastic or becomes entangled in it,” Minister Wilkinson said. “Every year, Canadians throw away three million tonnes of plastic waste, only nine percent of which is recycled, meaning the vast majority of plastics end up in landfills and about 29,000 tonnes finds its way into our natural environment. Canadians expect the government to take action to protect the environment and to reduce plastic pollution across the country.”

Single use plastics make up most of the plastic litter that is found in freshwater environments in Canada. There are close to 57 million straws used daily and up to 15 billion plastic bags used every year in Canada. 

The Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution released by ECCC this month reported that plastic packaging is the single largest contributor of plastic waste, followed by the automotive, textile and electrical and electronic equipment sectors. In 2016, 33 percent of the plastics entering the Canadian marketplace was for use in packaging. The assessment estimated that 40 percent of all plastic production is used for packaging, much of which is used for the food and drink sector. Most plastic packaging is single use in nature and accounts for 47 percent of the plastics discarded in Canada. 

Plastic pollution often ends up in our lakes, rivers and watersheds. Single-use plastics make up the bulk of macroplastics found on shorelines. The most common litter items collected on Canadian shorelines include cigarette butts, bottle caps, plastic bags, plastic bottles and straws. Microplastic particles such as fragments and pellets are also found on shorelines where they accumulate within the organic matter found there. Generally, a greater abundance of plastic pollution has been found in areas with high human and industrial activity, notably in the Great Lakes. Surveys from Great Lakes beach cleanups showed 31,472 litter items collected by volunteers during 47 surveys with 90 percent of these being plastic. 

The list of items to be banned was published in the discussion paper Proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products to Prevent Waste and Pollution. This plan also proposes improvements to recover and recycle plastic so it stays in our economy and out of the environment. The government is also proposing to establish recycled content requirements in products and packaging and states this will drive investment in recycling infrastructure and spur innovation in technology and product design to extend the life of plastic materials. Comments will be accepted until December 9, 2020 and the regulations are expected to be in effect by the end of 2021.

All federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed to the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste earlier this year. The strategy lays out a vision for a circular economy for plastics, as well as a two-phase action plan that is being jointly implemented. The federal government acknowledged that provinces, territories and municipalities are leaders in the recovery and recycling of plastic waste and will continue to work with them to strengthen existing programs and increase Canada’s capacity to reuse and recover more plastics. This will include developing pan-Canadian targets to ensure consistent and transparent rules across the country and to make producers and sellers of plastic products responsible for collecting them (Ontario is currently transitioning to a producer responsibility model).

“The minister’s announcement on single use plastics yesterday is a small start to what is a much bigger problem,” Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes commented. “Recycling is not working in the way people would expect and too much is finding its way into municipal landfills. Municipalities are cash-crunched to the point that they will be unable to do the work needed to make recycling effective.  New Democrats believe a company should be responsible for the plastics in their products and packaging over the lifetime of the plastic. That is a likely item to be connected with the cash problems municipalities have for effective recycling.”

More than 35 countries including UK, France and Italy have already banned certain single use plastics. “Canadians see the effects of plastic pollution in their communities and waterways and they expect the government to take action,” said Minister Wilkinson. “Our government is introducing a comprehensive plan to get to zero plastic waste. Our plan embraces the transition towards a circular economy, recycled content standards and targets for recycling rates.”