The federal government has announced plans to ban “harmful” single-use plastics by the end of 2021. The ban will include plastic bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food containers made from hard to recycled plastics, such as polystyrene.
“Canadians throw away about 3 million tons of plastic waste every year, which is equal to 570 garbage bags full every minute, every day,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, at a press conference on October 7. “Only nine per cent of that plastic is presently recycled. The rest goes to landfills or into our environment.”
Working alongside the provinces and territories, the ban is a step towards the federal government’s goal of reaching zero plastic waste by 2030. The government is asking for feedback on the proposed categorization of plastic products and management approach until Dec. 9. You can read the paper here.
When choosing which single-use plastics to ban, Wilkinson said the government based the decision on three criteria: The item is harmful to the environment, it’s difficult or costly to recycle, and there is a readily available alternative.
Once the ban is in effect, stores will have to provide alternatives. “It is presently hard to come back from the grocery store without a single-use plastic item, particularly around packaging with food,” Wilkinson said. “You use it, you throw it in the recycling, and more often than not it ends up in a landfill. This has to change, which is why we will be working with grocers and industry leaders, and with provinces and territories to keep more plastic in our economy through recycling.”
Wilkinson added that further regulations will be introduced to establish higher standards for plastic products and packaging not included in the single-use ban, as well as requirements for plastic producers to collect and recycle their products. He claimed that these recycling initiatives could create 42,000 new jobs.
The new ban and regulations, however, will not affect access to personal protective equipment and other plastics used in the medical field, Wilkinson said, as the government continues to stay committed to keeping citizens safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the government is investigating solutions to recycle PPE and make it biodegradable.
While some environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, said the ban didn’t go far enough—missing key items such as plastic bottles, an environmental advocacy organization, Environmental Defence, applauded the ban. “Single-use plastics are one of the largest contributors to plastic waste and pollution in Canada. They degrade ecosystems, harm wildlife, and, in many cases, are difficult to collect and recycle,” Ashley Wallis, Environmental Defence’s program manager for its plastics campaign, said in a statement. “It only makes sense to ban plastic items that we don’t really need and that wreak havoc on the environment.”
Wallis said the organization will hold the federal government accountable to its promises concerning the ban, including finalizing the addition of plastics to the toxic substance list, allowing the federal government to regulate plastics without passing new legislation, and enforcing recycled content targets.
“Canada needs to put in place a regulatory framework that moves the country towards a circular economy where reduction, reuse, repair, and redesign are prioritized, and recycling is relegated to where it belongs: a last resort,” Wallis said.