The Canadian government is eyeing a new ban on single-use plastics, meaning some disposable takeaway bins and plastic cutlery could be on their way out.
In an announcement on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will look at the policies implemented earlier this year by the European Union as a model for coming up with its own list of single-use plastics to ban.
The European Parliament voted earlier this year to ban the 10 most common forms of plastic pollution on Europe’s beaches, with further measures aiming to reduce the use of a broader range of plastic items in the future.
That vote earned overwhelming support from the members of European Parliament, with 560 voting in favour and just 35 voting against.
Since that policy will guide the creation of a Canadian ban, here’s a look at exactly how it works.
What does it actually ban?
As noted above, the goal of the ban was to get rid of the most common forms of plastic pollution on European beaches.
The European Parliament proposed last year to eliminate those forms of plastic and, in March 2019, voted in favour of a ban that must now be passed in each of the legislatures of its member states before it can take effect for the target of 2021.
Under the implementation of the ban, the following list of single-use plastic items will no longer be available in European Union member states:
- Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
- Single-use plastic plates
- Plastic straws
- Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
- Plastic balloon sticks
- Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups
According to a European Commission press release about the ban, those 10 commonly used items make up roughly 70 per cent of marine litter.
That ban does not extend to plastic bags.
Plastic bags were the subject of a 2015 European directive that required member states to introduce legislation limiting their use.
What else is being done?
Because the ban targets only a limited number of items, the policy also imposes a requirement for member states to take actions to reduce the use of some other forms of single-use plastics not included in the prohibition.
Member states must introduce their own measures to reduce the use of plastic food and beverage containers.
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They also must put more stringent labelling requirements in place on certain products such as wet wipes, sanitary towels and tobacco filters.
Those labels will need to state if the item contains plastic and the environmental damage of not disposing properly of the product.
The policy also sets new benchmarks that European member states will need to hit when it comes to the content of the plastic they are producing, stating that by 2025, at least 25 per cent of plastic bottles will need to be made with recycled material.
That number would increase to 90 per cent by 2029.
Bottle caps will also be required to be attached to their bottles so that they do not get lost and left out of the recycling process.
Member states will need to collect 90 per cent of the plastic bottles they use by 2029, and the rules will also require plastic producers to shoulder a greater portion of the cost of cleaning up litter.
Why is this being done now?
There are several factors at play in why such bans are happening now, ranging from growing consumer awareness to increased voter concern about climate change and pollution. Those voters are also electing governments tasked with a mandate to fix the problem.
This change in consumer and political behaviour goes hand in hand with a shift towards what economists call the “circular economy.”
The European Union referenced the shift in its rationale for the bans, and Trudeau did the same on Monday.
“What this will lead to is businesses will understand if they are also responsible for the recycling of the plastics they are putting in their products. They will think about the circular economy, they will think about the choices they make,” he said when asked about why he is pursuing the ban.
“This is a shift around responsibility.”
So what is a circular economy?
According to the World Economic Forum, the phrase encompasses a global economic shift away from what is known as the linear economy, which revolved around a model of make-use-dispose — with the latter part of that cycle leading to pollution.
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A circular economy is one where that linear cycle ends in a loop rather than a dump of the product, with the ultimate goal of designing products so that waste can be eliminated as items at the end of their life cycle can be re-used in the creation of more products.
“These are designed from the start for reuse, and products subject to rapid technological advance are designed for upgrade,” reads an explanation of the circular economy concept published by the World Economic Forum.
It’s effectively a much bigger version of the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra, except on a global and industrial scale.
And it’s closer to becoming a reality than some might think.
In 2015, the European Commission laid out a plan and a package of measures to move Europe towards a more circular economy and, in March 2019, received a final report indicating that all 54 of those measures had been implemented.
Reducing plastic pollution was part of that, along with pledges to toughen up design standards so that more products can be reused rather than disposed of and commitments to work to boost the market for reused water to tackle water scarcity.
Finland also created its own national action plan in 2016, while China and the European Union agreed in a memorandum of understanding last year to jointly work towards a circular economy.
The question that remains is whether Canada will follow suit.