Thirty-three plastic-producing companies have banded together to fight the Canadian government’s decision to ban certain single-use plastics. On July 15, the group, known as the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition (RPUC), filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government, asking the federal courts to repeal the ban.
Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos published the ban’s final regulations in June. The regulations target checkout bags, cutlery, takeout containers, stir sticks, straws, and six-pack rings.
Starting December 2022, manufacturing and importing these plastics will be banned. Businesses will have until December 2023 to deplete their stocks. After that, it will be prohibited to sell the items. And the government has said it will ban the exporting of these plastics by the end of 2025.
What RPUC takes issue with is that under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) plastic pollution is now considered “toxic”.
“The federal government designated all plastic manufactured items as toxic, a designation we believe is not only inaccurate but could have far-reaching and unintended consequences. Canadians rely on plastic to sustain everyday life—from eyeglasses to diapers, to water piping, to computers, phones, and baby bottles,” the coalition wrote on its website. “We believe there are far more impactful policy solutions to divert waste from our natural environment.”
RPUC did not respond to comment when asked to elaborate on its alternative policy solutions.
When asked about the lawsuit by Cottage Life, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said over email: “Recently, a group of plastic companies filed another lawsuit against the Government of Canada, this time to try and stop the government’s ban on harmful single-use plastics. That’s their choice. Our choice is to stay focused on fighting plastic pollution and on fighting for our environment. And we’re confident the courts will agree with our position.”
The decision to label plastic pollution as toxic came after the government published a scientific assessment in 2020, concluding that “the improper management of plastic waste has led to plastics becoming ubiquitous in all major compartments of the environment.”
The assessment went on to say that plastic pollution has been detected on shorelines, and in surface waters, sediment, groundwater, soil, indoor and outdoor air, food, and drinking water. Approximately one per cent of plastic waste enters the environment each year. That was the equivalent of 29,000 tonnes of plastic in 2016. And since plastic degrades slowly, the amount of plastic pollution found in the environment increases over time.
This poses a serious risk to animals that ingest or become entangled in the plastic, often dying as a result. Ingestion can also impact the health of humans.
According to the federal government, 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used every year and approximately 16 million straws are used daily. By introducing a ban on these items, the government estimates that over the next decade it will eliminate 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution.
This is a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done, said Karen Wirsig, the plastics program manager for the environmental advocacy group Environmental Defence, in a statement.
“Banning these plastics is the most effective way to solve the problem. Leading countries on every continent are implementing bans on plastics, so it’s good to see Canada keeping its promise to roll out bans here. But this is only the first of many steps the government must take to reach its goal of zero plastic waste by 2030. We’ll be looking for additional bans to address more single-use plastics that continue to plague the environment, as well as measures to ensure reuse and refill options are widely available,” she said.
Wirsig also commented on RPUC’s lawsuit, claiming that Environmental Defence was appalled by the coalition’s actions. “The plastics industry insists that better waste collection and recycling are the answer but after years of failed recycling efforts, it’s never been more obvious that plastic pollution is not a waste management problem. These bans are the first clear sign that making and using less plastic is not only possible, but doable and necessary.”