Canada’s ban on single-use plastics has been overturned—now what?

white plastic forks in a cup and spread out on a table Photo by marcinm111/Shutterstock

Just two weeks ago, on November 16, 2023, the Federal Court cracked down on Canada’s single-use plastics ban, overturning it and calling it “unreasonable and unconstitutional.” The court found that the plastics classification in the May 2021 cabinet order, which includes all plastic manufactured items, was too broad to be listed as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

The court also deemed the government acted outside of its authority: “There is no reasonable apprehension that all listed Plastic Manufactured Items are harmful,” the court’s decision reads. The Responsible Plastic Use Coalition (RPUC), a group of plastic manufacturers, initiated the legal challenge. They’ve since expressed their support for the Federal Court’s decision in a statement.

Despite the court’s decision to overturn, though, regulations banning the manufacturing and importing of certain plastic items (straws, stir sticks, beverage ring carriers, some takeout containers, cutlery, and checkout bags) are already in play—and seemingly here to stay. In recent statements to Global News, both Loblaws and Metro said they weren’t planning on bringing back plastic bags for consumers.

So what does this mean for the movement going forward? Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault stated that the federal government is “strongly considering” appealing the decision amid calls from both Environmental Defence and Greenpeace Canada to do so. If that happens, the decision could be reversed once again, or a new trial could be ordered.

It’s important to note that the court’s decision to overturn the ban still allows the government to redefine what it considers to be toxic. Instead of using the umbrella term of all “plastic manufactured items,” the government could instead choose specific items, such as plastic cutlery and grocery bags. Whether they’ll decide to do this, appeal the decision, or both, remains to be seen.

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