A Canadian federal government recently released a Discussion Paper entitled A Proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products to Prevent Waste and Pollution.  The purposed of the discussion paper is to seek input on a proposed integrated management approach to plastics to take a number of actions, including regulations which would be developed under the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA).

According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte,1 over 3 million tonnes of plastics were discarded as waste in Canada in 2016, and only 9% was recycled. Plastic waste burdens our economy, representing a $7.8B lost opportunity. When leaked into the natural environment, plastic threatens the health of our wildlife, ecosystems, rivers, lakes and oceans. In 2016, 29,000 tonnes of plastic waste entered the Canadian environment as pollution.

Action is needed to eliminate plastic pollution at its source by reducing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the environment. This can be achieved through greater prevention, collection, innovation and value recovery of plastic waste and transitioning to a more circular economy for plastics.  The development and scaling up of new forms of plastic and new technologies provides opportunities to incentivize and support improved recovery of resources from products and packaging at the end of their useful life. Retaining materials and products in a circular economy not only reduces greenhouse gases
emissions and pressure on the environment, but also has significant economic benefits. The transition to a more circular economy would save costs, increase competitiveness, stimulate innovation, support prosperity by creating new jobs and reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment.

The Government of Canada is taking steps toward eliminating plastic pollution in Canada, including potentially banning or restricting certain harmful single-use plastic products, where warranted and supported by science.  For example, under Canada’s G7 presidency in 2018, the Government of Canada championed the development of the Ocean Plastics Charter,2 which commits to a more resource-efficient and lifecycle approach to plastics stewardship, on land and at sea.

In October 2020, the Government of Canada released a Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution. The Science Assessment presents a thorough scientific review of the occurrence and potential impacts of plastic pollution on human health and the environment.  The Science Assessment recommends pursuing actions to reduce macroplastics and microplastics that end up in the environment, in accordance with the precautionary principle, which states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”.

In order to take action as recommended in the Science Assessment, the Government of Canada has proposed using enabling authorities under CEPA to regulate certain plastic manufactured items. This will allow the Government to enact regulations that target sources of plastic pollution and change
behaviour at key stages in the lifecycle of plastic products, such as design, manufacture, use, disposal and recovery in order to reduce pollution and create the conditions for achieving a circular plastics economy.

Next steps and sending comments

The Government  of Canada recognizes the importance of balancing environmental protection and clean growth with the economic importance of plastic and its role in protecting human health, in particular during this COVID-19 public health emergency.

Taking into account lessons from the current pandemic and mindful of continued constraints brought about by the pandemic, Canadians and Canadian businesses will be given the opportunity to participate meaningfully in informing any measures taken.

Next steps for ECCC will include engagement with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders on the design of the regulatory instruments and the approaches outlined in this discussion paper.

Parties wishing to comment on any aspect of this paper, including the categorization of single-use plastics and proposed management approaches, are invited to provide written comments to the Director of the Plastics and Marine Litter Division of ECCC by December 9, 2020 at ec.plastiquesplastics.ec@canada.ca.