Alberta government to intervene in constitutional challenge against federal plastics ban

Click to play video: 'Alberta reacts to federal single-use plastics ban'
Alberta reacts to federal single-use plastics ban
The federal ban on single-use plastics is raising questions in Alberta, as the province announced plastics would play a major role in its diversification strategy. Adam MacVicar reports. – Oct 7, 2020

The Alberta government says it will intervene in a constitutional challenge against a federal legislation that labelled plastic as a toxic substance.

The constitutional challenge, which was filed by the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition in May last year, alleges that the designation of plastic manufactured items as toxic substances is unconstitutional and scientifically inaccurate. The coalition includes major petrochemical companies such as Dow, Imperial Oil and Nova Chemicals.

Alberta’s attorney general filed a notice to the Federal Court of Canada on Wednesday that noted the province will make submissions in the constitutional challenge.

“This is an ongoing battle, and it’s time again for Alberta to stand up and defend our interests from the Trudeau government,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a news conference on Thursday morning.

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“The federal government has once against drifted out of their lane, straying into provincial jurisdiction where it has no legal right to be in. This includes provincial jurisdiction over property rights and civil rights which will be reflected in our submission.”

This comes after federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced the ban on single-use plastics in 2020, which listed six items that will be banned because they are both harmful to the environment and difficult to recycle.

At the time, Wilkinson said he will add “plastic manufactured items” to the “toxic substances list” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Items on the list must be limited in their release into the environment, which includes banning some products and encouraging recycling or reuse of others.

Kenney maintains plastic is not toxic, saying the federal government has no scientific evidence to label plastic manufactured items that way. The government should invest in innovations to reduce plastic waste instead, including moves to produce “lower-emission” plastic items.

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“Labelling plastics as toxic substances is already having negative impacts on Alberta’s petrochemical industry, by creating uncertainty among investors,” Kenney said.

“If Canada is the only country in the world that says plastic is as toxic as arsenic, then why would the industry invest here where they can go anywhere in the world that treats plastics as inert and safe products?”

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But Mohammad Arjmand, assistant professor of engineering at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, doesn’t agree with Kenney’s statement.

While the day-to-day use of plastic items such as cell phones and utensils may not be harmful, some plastics can emit toxic substances when broken down.

Microplastics from some plastic materials can also enter the food chain and affect human and animal health, he said.

“Plastics are not toxic, but we have different types of plastics. We don’t have one kind of plastic but many. Some are chemically weaker compared to others,” Arjmand said.

“If they are exposed to some chemicals or some compression liquids, there might be some leaching of materials from these plastics.

“It’s a grey zone. We can’t say plastics are toxic because we use them on a daily basis, but if you use the right type of plastic in the right place and it’s exposed to the right type of liquid and temperature… that might become a problem.”

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Arjmand also questioned the Alberta government’s use of the term “lower-emission,” saying it’s a buzzword unless plastics and petrochemical companies change their manufacturing systems.

The government should be focused on improving the process of recycling and reusing plastics instead, he said.

“We have a couple of problems when we’re collecting plastics for (recycling). First of all, we have different types of plastics… Second, they could be contaminated with detergents or food or other things, and we’ll need to wash and rinse them,” Arjmand said.

“The government can also create policies to make manufacturers and companies responsible for what they’re producing.

“The reality in Canada is that we have a limited number of good recycling facilities, but we don’t have the infrastructure,” he said. “When you address one problem, you also have to address a broad variety of other problems that come with it, such as how to get rid of the wastewater after washing separated plastics during the recycling process.”

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