Liberals release long-awaited regulations to ban single-use plastics, but there’s a loophole

Plastic straws are pictured in North Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, June 4, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward

The Liberal government has released draft regulations to ban six kinds of “harmful” single-use plastic in Canada: straws and stir sticks, six-pack rings, grocery bags, cutlery and difficult to recycle takeout containers.

But the draft rules also include an exemption that would allow Canadian manufacturers to continue making these items, so long as they’re intended for export.

Read more: Despite political promises, plastic continues to fill Canada’s lakes, rivers and oceans

The Liberals say the proposed rules “seek to minimize costs to government and industry,” while at the same time preventing plastic pollution and protecting the environment.

“Plastic pollution is a global crisis but the draft regulations only address import and sale in Canada,” said Karen Wirsig, plastics program manager at Environmental Defence.

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“That means Canadian companies can continue to make these harmful products for export. The government must ban their manufacture for export or Canadian-made single-use plastic products will continue to pollute other countries.”

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Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the draft regulations on Tuesday in a joint statement.

The statement said the new rules could come into effect sometime at the end of 2022. That’s about a year later than initially planned. There may also be a transition period to allow restaurants and other businesses to get used to the new rules, which could push the date back even further.

“Reducing plastic pollution creates a healthier living environment for all, because we know that plastics break down into tiny pieces that can get into water streams and be eaten by animals,” Duclos said in a written statement.

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Read more: Montreal to ban single-use plastics by 2023

A final decision on when the rules will come into force will be made after the government has considered the comments received during the consultation period, which is open until March 5, 2022.

The government said the proposed regulations could potentially eliminate up to 23,000 tonnes of plastic pollution from the environment over the next 10 years. That’s the equivalent of about one million garbage bags full of waste.

Business of plastic

Making plastic is big business in Canada.

A 2019 report from Environment and Climate Change Canada found that about $10 billion worth of “virgin” plastics are manufactured by Canadian companies each year.

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The same study found that only nine per cent of plastics used in Canada are recycled and that Canadians dispose of about 3.3 million tonnes of plastic every year. That’s close to 10,000 tonnes a day.

“We believe bans of some single-use plastic items might make governments and consumers feel good in the short term, but do not solve the overall problem long-term,” said Devon Babin, a spokesperson for the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, which represents plastics manufacturers.

“We are disappointed that safe inert plastic materials that play such important roles in Canadians’ lives continue to be labelled as toxic substances (under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act) or are being banned when innovative technologies like advanced recycling are available to manage their end of life.”

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During the most recent election campaign, the Liberals pledged to move toward a “zero plastic waste” future.

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This means implementing recycled-content requirements for any plastics sold in Canada of up to 50 per cent by 2030, and strengthening rules around recycling, especially for plastic drinking bottles.

The Liberals also promised to make sure manufacturers, and not taxpayers, are responsible for the cost of recycling, and to stop subsidizing oil and gas companies.

Read more: Plastic straws, forks, stir sticks could be phased out in 2023 under new B.C. bill

Global News asked the government why the new draft regulations include an exemption that allows manufacturers to export single-use plastics that will be banned in Canada. Global News also asked whether this exemption is consistent with the government’s aim of eliminating hazardous plastic waste.

Gabriel Brunet, a spokesperson for Guilbeault, said the proposed rules, including the exemption for manufacturers, are consistent with the rules set by other countries, such as the European Union.

He also said that if Canada stopped companies from making single-use plastics and selling them abroad, the demand would be met by other countries that allow exports.

“The proposed regulations seek to minimize costs to government and industry, while at the same time meeting the policy objectives of preventing plastic pollution and protecting the environment,” Brunet said in an email statement.

“The government has determined, through thorough analysis, that prohibiting single-use plastics manufactured or imported for export would not lead to a global reduction in plastics.”


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