U.S. EPA’s Announces Easing of Environmental Enforcement during COVID-19 Pandemic

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently announced an Enforcement Discretion Policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary policy is with respect to environmental enforcement of legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy addresses different categories of noncompliance differently. For example, under the policy the U.S. EPA does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but does expect operators of public water systems to continue to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies. The policy also describes the steps that regulated facilities should take to qualify for enforcement discretion.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”

The temporary policy makes it clear that EPA expects regulated facilities to comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible. To be eligible for enforcement discretion, the policy also requires facilities to document decisions made to prevent or mitigate noncompliance and demonstrate how the noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This policy does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law.

The policy does not apply to activities that are carried out under Superfund and RCRA Corrective Action enforcement instruments. EPA will address these matters in separate communications.

The U.S. EPA’s policy will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, 2020. The U.S. EPA will assess the continued need for and scope of this temporary policy on a regular basis and will update it if EPA determines modifications are necessary.

Recycling Operations Safety Precautions: COVID-19

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The Canadian Association of Recycling Industries (CARI) recently prepared a guidance document entitled COVID-19 General Safety Checklist for Recycling Operations. The guidance document was prepared to assist CARI members in ensuring they have taken all possible safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Besides the guidance document, CARI also prepared a summary of companies permitted to operate in Ontario and Quebec under the current government restrictions as can be found below.

Who can currently operate in Ontario?

ESSENTIAL SERVICES CATEGORIZATION – ONTARIO

Most Ontario recycling operations are captured under one or more of these essential services categories:

SUPPLY CHAINS: Businesses that supply other essential businesses or essential services with the support, supplies, systems or services, including processing, packaging, distribution, delivery and maintenance necessary to operate

MANUFACTURING AND PRODUCTION

  • Businesses that extract, manufacture, process and distribute goods, products, equipment and materials, including businesses that manufacture inputs to other manufacturers
  • Businesses, facilities and services that support and facilitate the two-way movement of essential goods within integrated North America and Global supply chains

AGRICULTURE AND FOOD PRODUCTION: Businesses (including any-for-profit, non-profit or other entity) that help to ensure safe and effective waste management including deadstock, rendering, nutrient management, bio hazardous materials, green waste, packaging recycling

UTILITIES AND COMMUNITY SERVICES: Utilities and businesses that support the provision of utilities and community services, including by providing products, materials and services needed for the delivery of utilities and community services including waste collection 

Who can currently operate in Quebec?

ESSENTIAL SERVICES CATEGORIZATION – QUEBEC

Essential service definition: “All businesses that produce inputs or raw materials necessary for priority services and activities must maintain their activities accordingly, bearing in mind the directives from public health authorities. Businesses that provide non-essential services, excluding stores, can maintain minimal operations to ensure the resumption of their activities, bearing in mind the directives issued by public health authorities.”

Recycling operations that fall under these categories may maintain basic operations onsite:

1. GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND OTHER PRIORITY ACTIVITIES / SERVICES GOUVERNEMENTAUX ET AUTRES ACTIVITES PRIORITAIRES: Garbage collection and residual materials management / Collecte des déchets et gestion des matières résiduelles

2. PRIORITY MANUFACTURING ACTIVITIES / ACTIVITES MANUFACTURIERES PRIORITAIRES: The production of inputs necessary for priority sectors / Production des intrants nécessaires aux secteurs prioritaires

Six Things To Consider Before The Coronavirus Impacts Environmental Compliance

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Written by Patrick Traylor, Conrad Bolston, and Misty M. Howell, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Companies with environmental compliance obligations should think carefully about and plan ahead for how the coronavirus outbreak might affect their ability to comply. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, companies may run out of the supplies they need to operate pollution controls, or their environmental compliance departments might become short-staffed, which could result in missed monitoring, recordkeeping, or reporting. Here are six things to keep in mind.

Enforcement discretion. Think about developing a strong argument for why federal and state environmental enforcement agencies should exercise their enforcement discretion not to pursue noncompliance caused by an emergency. The EPA has a long-standing policy that allows for “no action” assurances to be issued to excuse noncompliance during emergencies. The prerequisites for an assurance are stringent, and a requestor must demonstrate that the public interest in excusing noncompliance outweighs the public impacts from the noncompliance. These assurances may only be issued by the Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, so the work of obtaining them must be conducted at EPA Headquarters.

Malfunctions and upset defenses. Think about how malfunction and upset provisions in federal and state regulations and many permits can provide protection against enforcement, but only if the company complies with the prerequisites for these provisions. Each state (and some federal regulations) has different malfunction and upset rules, so it will be important to meet the stringent conditions of these rules before noncompliance will be excused.

Force majeure. Think about whether the company is subject to federal or state settlements that might have a force majeure clause that could excuse noncompliance. Most federal judicial consent decrees have force majeure clauses that could excuse noncompliance, but require that companies use “best efforts” to avoid noncompliance. Companies should carefully review their settlements to see how to comply with their force majeure provisions. And some states have “act of God” statutes under which the inevitable consequences of such events (which may include “other catastrophes”) are deemed to not constitute violations at all.

Impact of staffing challenges. Think about how staffing challenges might affect the company’s ability to comply. With companies beginning to shut down operations, it is possible that environmental compliance staff might not be able to work, and the company might miss monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting obligations. A company will want to very clearly justify decisions to excuse environmental compliance staff from work, especially if a “no action” assurance is sought or a malfunction/upset/force majeure claim is made.

Don’t forget your supply contracts. Think about the terms and conditions of supply contracts that are critical for environmental compliance and consider taking steps now to make sure suppliers comply with their contracts. If they cannot, think about whether a supply failure could qualify as a malfunction, upset, or force majeure event.

After the storm has passed. Think ahead to when the crisis has passed, and governmental and non-governmental organizations evaluate whether the emergency justified any noncompliance.


About the Authors

Patrick Traylor is a partner in Vinson & Elkin’s Environment and Natural Resources practice and was most recently the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in Washington, D.C., where he helped oversee the EPA’s enforcement response during natural disasters.

Conrad Bolston is a senior associate in Vinson & Elkin’s Environment and Natural Resources practice. He has assisted clients with a variety of federal and state environmental enforcement matters, environmental due diligence efforts, regulatory guidance, internal investigations, and litigation.

Misty M. Howell is an associate in Vinson & Elkin’s Environment and Natural Resources practice. She has assisted clients with a variety of federal environmental enforcement matters, due diligence efforts, government investigations, and litigation. 

Thunder Bay expanding plastics recycling program

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As reported by the CBC, Thunder Bay City Council recently renewed the contract for waste collection with GFL Environmental which includes an expansion of its curbside plastics recycling program to include all #1 (PETE) and #2 plastics (HDPE), including clamshell containers.

The contract with GFL is for seven years at a cost of $3 million per year.

Jason Sherband, the city’s manager of solid waste, told council there is a demand for more items to be included in the municipal recycling program. The expected cost of adding in all #1 and #2 plastics is about $60,000 per year.

That total will be offset by a new revenue sharing component, where the city and GFL will split any revenue 50/50 from the recycled materials. However, the deal allows for the city to also contribute to any losses in revenue.

The Council decided against expanding the plastics recycling program to include plastics #3 through #7 as the collection and processing costs of $180,000 per year would not likely be off-set by the revenue generated through their sale.

Council agreed to have City staff study the issue including plastics #3 through #7 and report back to Council before the 2021 budget.  With the Province of Ontario committed to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), the costing of blue box programs is likely to shift from municipalities to producers.

The changes to the recycling program in the city are still for households and multi-residential properties only. Thunder Bay does not have a municipal recycling program for businesses.

COVID 19 Disrupts Cross-Border Waste and Recyclables Flow

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie and Peter Hargreave, Policy Integrity Inc.

COVID 19 Disrupts Cross-Border Waste and Recyclables Flow

In light of all the actions being taken by all levels of government to address the spread of the coronavirus, it is worth considering its impact on the waste management sector in Canada.  For most, how waste is collected and where it is taken, is not a daily consideration.  And yet, it is one of the most important public health and safety considerations.

Canadian Waste Industry Vulnerable to US Shutdown

In Ontario for instance, roughly one-third of the Province’s waste disposal needs are met by landfills in the United States.  That equates to 3.2 million tonnes of waste a year or roughly 9,000 tonnes per day. While other Canadian provinces do not have the same reliance on out-of-country disposal, many are reliant on a degree of waste materials being shipped across the border.

The free movement of these materials across the US border is an important element of the current Canadian waste management system.  In the last two decades, we have dealt with a few potential disruptions to this flow of materials.

  • The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 provided a first indication of the potential vulnerability when US border access was constrained.  The immediate closure and proceeding long lines at the border lasted for several days afterward. The Ontario Ministry of Environment, for instance, had to facilitate emergency measures to ensure waste could be managed in the interim period.
  • After a number of waste truck rollovers in Michigan in the early 2000s, local Senators threatened legislative action to restrict waste crossing the border. This led to an agreement between the state of Michigan and Ontario municipalities in 2006, to end the export of municipal waste (specifically from the GTA) to Michigan by 2010. The province helped facilitate the agreement, and as a result, the state of Michigan dropped all legislative initiatives to stop waste imports. The agreement did not include non-residential waste. By 2010, Ontario municipalities had stopped sending residential waste to Michigan. For a time, overall waste shipments to the U.S. declined, but since 2010, non-residential waste export to the U.S. has steadily increased.
  • Concerns were also raised again as part of the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2018 that there could be potential for restrictions on the movement of goods.

Any impact on the movement of waste as a result of a closure to the border, would necessitate the management of this roughly 9,000 tonnes of additional waste domestically.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

As in 2001, the inability to transfer waste to the United States would likely necessitate potential changes to environmental permits (such as Environmental Compliance Approvals in Ontario) or governmental emergency declarations / measures to allow for waste receiving sites to increase their annual daily maximum limits. Provincial regulators have been prepared in the past in granting the necessary permissions, and are likely doing similar work  now to ensure the waste industry is not at risk of willful non-compliance.

It may also be the case that some of these waste volumes don’t easily find an alternate receiving site, putting the collectors and/or haulers in the difficult position of potentially operating an unlicensed waste storage facility.  Provincial governments will need to think through these situations including requiring certain sites to accept materials.  In short, there are no simple solutions, but proper planning across the country can at least reduce risks.

Hazardous Recyclables and Hazardous Waste Movement Compliance

In the case of hazardous materials for which no clear alternate home is available in Canada, the situation is even more precarious.   Internationally, no less than 99% of all (lawful) hazardous recyclables (and hazardous waste) exported from, or imported to, Canada are with the United States.  International wastes are still regulated in Canada under the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations, which has yet to be replaced by the long-proposed and more business-friendly Cross-border Movement of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations.  

The Export and Import law currently requires certifications from the holder that any recyclable or waste which is not successfully transferred across the border will be lawfully disposed of in Canada consistent with the approved recycling or waste activity under which the materials were to be transited to the United States.  

A closed border will, in at least some circumstances, put that certification to the test as not all materials exported to the United States have an alternate recycling or disposal facility in Canada.  This is increasingly so with the growth of more specialized and regionally-servicing facilities in US states which capture both Canadian and American materials.  

Some Canadian Recyclers Dependent Upon US Material 

The reverse also creates challenges for the waste industry as some Canadian recyclers are economically dependent on US material.   The disruption of the needed supply of US-originating materials into specialized recycling and disposal facilities in Canada can quickly create a situation where insufficient material volumes makes the facilities no longer viable, leaving the Canadian materials also without a home.

In other words, the growth of integration, particularly in respect of hazardous recyclables and discrete hazardous wastes makes a border shutdown acutely challenging for the Canadian recycling and waste industry.

Contingency Planning to be Developed?

It is likely an overreaction to anticipate that US-Canada integration in resource recovery and waste disposal will come to an end with the current closure of the border.   The economies of scale and lower cost disposal capacity in the United States will presumably reinvigorate this international trade once the worst of COVID-19 has passed.

There may, however, be a growth in contingency planning in respect of Canadian waste and recycling capacity, recognizing a myriad of events may give rise to future US border closures and the Canadian waste industry needs to be prepared.


About the Authors

Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm’s Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. 

Peter Hargreave, President of Policy Integrity Inc., has over 15 years’ experience in providing strategic advice in the development, implementation and oversight of public policy. Over his professional career, he has developed a strong network of relationships with regulators, public and private organizations, and other key stakeholders involved in environmental issues across Canada, the United States and abroad. 

Business Opportunity: Solid Waste Management Plan for Wood Buffalo, Alberta

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The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is seeking proposals from reputable and experienced firms to conduct assessment of the current municipal Solid Waste Management practices to reduce and eliminate the adverse impacts of solid waste materials on resident’s health, the environment and to support economic development and superior quality of life.

Bid Opportunity notices and awards and a free preview of the bid documents is available on the Bids and Tenders website free of charge without registration. There is no cost to obtain an unsecured version of the document and /or to participate in this solicitation

Submissions will be received online only.  The deadline for bid submissions is April 8th, 2020.

Canada asks for extension on legislation to ban plastic waste exports

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The Government of Canada recently made a formal notification to the United Nations (UN) that its laws will not be in compliance with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal (“Basel Convention”).

The definition of “hazardous waste” in the Basel Convention was extended to include contaminated plastic waste. Canada has yet to pass legislation banning the export of this waste stream.

“Before Canada can formally accept the amendments, it needs to complete an internal acceptance procedure. This procedure, led by Global Affairs Canada, is underway,” Gabrielle Lamontagne of Environment Canada told CBC News, adding that Canada hopes to finish that work before the end of the year.

UN documents say the new rules “come into force” on March 24 of this year. Canada is requesting a special delay from the UN in order to give it more time to enact the required legislation. The notice sent to the UN says that Canada “fully supports and intends to comply with the amendments,” but “the said process may not be finalized prior to the entry into force of the above-noted amendments.”

During the Basel Conference of the Parties from 29 April to 10 May 2019, Governments amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, whilst also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment. At the same time, a new Partnership on Plastic Waste was established to mobilize business, government, academic and civil society resources, interests and expertise to assist in implementing the new measures, to provide a set of practical supports – including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance.

Sanexen Receives funding for pilot project to recycle C&D waste

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RECYC-QUÉBEC recently awarded funding to SANEXEN Environmental Services Inc., for Phase 1 of a project to recycle and reclaim gypsum residues and fine residues from the construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) sector.

As the Quebec Residual Materials Management Policy calls for fine residues to no longer be buried in landfills, CRD debris sorting centres are facing sizeable challenges. SANEXEN therefore proposes a solution to recycle and reclaim the fine materials, which would then avoid having to bury over 90% of fine residues from CRD debris sorting centres.

Phase 1 of the project, backed by RECYC-QUÉBEC, would transform fine residues into materials that could be reclaimed using SANEXEN’s own physicochemical treatment process. Moreover, this is the first traceability project in Quebec for residual materials coming directly from the source of production (CRD debris sorting centres) to a reclamation centre dedicated to processing this material. This traceability project is part of SANEXEN’s commitment to transparent and environmentally responsible management of these residual materials. Moreover, a project with the private sector had been carried out in 2019, in collaboration with Avatek Immobilier and Traces Québec.

“This is the first technologically and economically viable solution that will result in less than 10% of CRD fine residues ending up in the landfill at the end of this large-scale, one-year project,” said Martin Bureau, Vice-President, Innovation, SANEXEN.

This initiative will also help define the following aspects: what can actually be considered fine residue as opposed to waste and the type of fine residues that may be reclaimed. A more thorough definition of fine residue that can be reclaimed will also help refine possible markets for this material.

North Bay Banning Textiles from Landfill

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The City of North Bay, a community approximately 50,000 about 350 km north to Toronto, recently banned the collection and disposal of textiles at the City-owned landfill.

The ban is a result of a vote of City Council to discontinue the collection and disposal of textiles at the city landfill. A majority of council adopted a recommendation from the city’s infrastructure and operations committee to ban textiles from the Merrick Landfill and conduct an education campaign.

The textile ban is being taken, in part, to extend the life of the existing Merrick Landfill. Operations at the landfill began in 1995 and the projected lifespan is 19 years.

In 2019, Councillor Mac Bain tried to convince fellow councillors to implement the landfill ban on textiles. He argued that used textiles should go to local charities like the Salvation Army and Rebuilt Resources who can then resell them. Torn and unsold clothing can be broken up and used as rags according to Bain.

The textile ban takes effect on April 22nd. City enforcement of the ban will not include waste collectors opening and inspecting garbage bags. The city also will not levy fines against individuals or businesses, and used textiles which cannot be donated, such as soiled or greasy rags, can still be thrown away.

It is estimated the the landfill ban of textiles could potentially divert an estimated 1,890 metric tons, of unwanted textiles each year in North Bay. Currently, approximately 85 of unwanted textiles are landfilled.

What Power Does Canada Have to Restrict Single-Use Plastics?

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie and Peter Hargreave, Policy Integrity Inc.

With all of the talk from the Government of Canada about the coming laws targeting single-use plastics (SUP), it’s worth asking whether the Parliament has such powers and what’s needed for them to act on SUP.   After all, the federal government has ceded much of its role to the provinces and territories which regulate over environmental protection generally, including most waste management matters, and some provinces have expressed hostility and a willingness to commence legal challenges to any encroachment on their jurisdiction, often on environmental matters such as climate change.   

Regional exceptionalism has become the norm as the federal government has for decades left the provinces and territories to take the lead without national coordination. As a result, the federal approach to SUP which will inherently value (in some measure) national consistency over regionalism will have difficulty in establishing balance, particularly given that some provinces rely upon plastics production as critical revenue sources.  So where exactly does the federal government believe they possess the powers to fulfil their promises to impose a SUP law across Canada?

CEPA and Toxic Substances

The federal government will, by all accounts, attempt to use Part V of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Controlling Toxic Substances.   Specifically, Environment and Climate Change Canada has the power to regulate plastics under section 90(1) of CEPA, if satisfied that the substance is toxic, to place them on the List of Toxic Substances, which is Schedule 1 to CEPA. 

Findings of toxicity were made for plastic microbeads in toiletries in 2017. Section 64 defines a substance as toxic if

“it is entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that:

  1. have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity;
  2. constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends; or
  3. constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”

On the Toxic Substances List already are substances Canadians would recognize as inherently dangerous such as lead and mercury.  In contrast, the federal government would be seeking to make a common household material, broadly used to contain and preserve our foods, medicines, etc. equivalent under CEPA to these clearly toxic substances.  It would be a difficult argument to claim that plastics are toxic at all times and for all purposes.    

The ECCC presumably intends to assess plastics as toxic on a more narrow and functional basis – namely that plastics become plastic pollution as they degrade over time, principally as waste material, especially when not managed properly at the end of life.  As waste management is admittedly a provincial/territorial area of legislative authority, the toxicity claim would blur jurisdictional lines.  In short, it’s not as straight forward as the federal government has suggested. 

The Test to Establish Plastics are Toxic

Curiously, while the test for plastics to be placed on Schedule 1 List is that plastics are toxic, the considerations the ECCC are to adopt in assessing a substance are expanded under section 68 to whether a substance is toxic or is capable of being toxic.  The considerations include:

  1. whether short-term exposure to the substance causes significant effects,
  2. the potential of organisms in the environment to be widely exposed to the substance,
  3. whether organisms are exposed to the substance via multiple pathways,
  4. the ability of the substance to cause a reduction in metabolic functions of an organism,
  5. the ability of the substance to cause delayed or latent effects over the lifetime of an organism,
  6. the ability of the substance to cause reproductive or survival impairment of an organism,
  7. whether exposure to the substance has the potential to contribute to population failure of a species,
  8. the ability of the substance to cause transgenerational effects,
  9. quantities, uses and disposal of the substance,
  10. the manner in which the substance is released into the environment,
  11. the extent to which the substance can be dispersed and will persist in the environment,
  12. the development and use of alternatives to the substance,
  13. methods of controlling the presence of the substance in the environment, and
  14. methods of reducing the quantity of the substance used or produced or the quantities or concentration of the substance released into the environment;

As this is a list of considerations and not a strict legal test, no particular item may be necessary or sufficient for the federal government to declare plastics are toxic – there is likely considerable latitude where the science supports concerns over environmental harm.

Does the Draft Assessment Provide Sufficient Scientific Support?

On January 31st, 2020, the ECCC released its draft Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution.   The assessment was not focused upon plastics itself, but rather on plastics when it comes pollution.   This might be understood as an assessment of how plastics are capable of being toxic and not a study on the inherent toxicity of plastics, which has a separate assessment process.  This itself is a departure from the ECCC’s common assessment process, although used for microbeads as arguably the first of those lifecycle toxicity tests.

The findings from the draft Assessment, still in consultation until the end of March, are limited to the pollution (read: waste) effects of plastics and not plastics absent their current usage:

The purpose of this report is to summarize the current state of the science regarding the potential impacts of plastic pollution on the environment and human health, as well as to guide future research and inform decision-making on plastic pollution in Canada. It provides a review of the available information on plastic pollution, including its sources, occurrence, and fate, as well as on the potential effects of plastics on the environment and human health.

It’s also notable that the draft Assessment is identifies as a “survey” of existing science and anticipates further research on plastics, even though the assessment is to serve as to “guide regulatory activities”. 

This report is not intended to quantify the risks of plastic pollution on the environment or human health, but rather to survey the existing state of science in order to guide future scientific and regulatory activities.

The broad remedial powers of the ECCC under CEPA likely cure these defects in science for a finding of plastics as toxics, but proceeding to regulation from the draft Assessment alone may open the ECCC up to challenges that more is needed before such as determination can be made. The ECCC seems to leave the door open to more science, perhaps as much due diligence as inquiry.

It is also worth noting that the regulation of SUP in the name of plastic pollution mitigation aligns with Canada’s commitments under the Ocean Plastics Charter. Such an agreement does not however vest the federal government with implementation powers it does not already have.

So Which Plastics Would Be Declared Toxic?

The draft Assessment divides plastics into two categories:  microplastics (5mm of less) and macroplastics (more than 5mm).   There is some other discussion regarding alternative plastics, such as biodegradable, compostable and bioplastics, but these arguably aren’t sufficiently addressed in isolation in the draft Assessment to warrant findings specific to these alternatives.   

It’s likely that each of microplastics and macroplastics will be the subject of distinct regulatory control measures on behalf of the ECCC under the coming law, with microplastics perhaps attracting the greater restrictions given the greater nexus to contamination.   After all, “microbeads” of 5mm or less are already listed as a toxic substance on Schedule 1.  

It’s also clear that the federal government views SUP as a more pressing matter in light of the 2021 implementation by member states of the European Union’s (EU) Single-Use Plastics Directive and the Ocean Plastics Charter.  In fashioning a Canadian version of a SUP law, it’s worth understanding what regulatory instruments the ECCC would have under CEPA.

The Range of Control Measures Available

Once some category of plastics are deemed “toxic”, the ECCC inherits a considerable range of control instruments to regulate those plastics.  Section 93 of CEPA provides the ECCC ability to control:

  1. the quantity or concentration of the substance that may be released into the environment either alone or in combination with any other substance from any source or type of source;
  2. the places or areas where the substance may be released;
  3. the commercial, manufacturing or processing activity in the course of which the substance may be released;
  4. the manner in which and conditions under which the substance may be released into the environment, either alone or in combination with any other substance;
  5. the quantity of the substance that may be manufactured, processed, used, offered for sale or sold in Canada;
  6. the purposes for which the substance or a product containing it may be imported, manufactured, processed, used, offered for sale or sold;
  7. the manner in which and conditions under which the substance or a product containing it may be imported, manufactured, processed or used;
  8. the quantities or concentrations in which the substance may be used;
  9. the quantities or concentrations of the substance that may be imported;
  10. the countries from or to which the substance may be imported or exported;
  11. the conditions under which, the manner in which and the purposes for which the substance may be imported or exported;
  12. the total, partial or conditional prohibition of the manufacture, use, processing, sale, offering for sale, import or export of the substance or a product containing it;
  13. the total, partial or conditional prohibition of the import or export of a product that is intended to contain the substance;
  14. the quantity or concentration of the substance that may be contained in any product manufactured, imported, exported, offered for sale or sold in Canada;
  15. the manner in which, conditions under which and the purposes for which the substance or a product containing it may be advertised or offered for sale;
  16. the manner in which and conditions under which the substance or a product containing it may be stored, displayed, handled, transported or offered for transport;
  17. the packaging and labelling of the substance or a product containing it;
  18. the manner, conditions, places and method of disposal of the substance or a product containing it, including standards for the construction, maintenance and inspection of disposal sites;

It is likely that a suite of these measures will be adopted distinctly for microplastics and macroplastics. (It’s not clear if alternative plastics would attract their own measures.)  The EU’s Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive may be instructive, it sets out a number of measures including:

  • Aggressive recycling targets for beverage containers (77% by 2025 and 90% by 2030);
  • Design requirements for beverage containers (i.e., recycled content and tethered caps);
  • Labelling requirements for products that are often not disposed of properly (tobacco products, beverage cups, wet wipes and sanitary towels);
  • Expanded producer responsibility requirements; and
  • Bans by 2021 on single-use plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, sticks for balloons; all products made of oxo-plastic; cups, food and beverage containers made of polystyrene foam.

Enter the Provinces

It is generally understood that most jurisdictions in the EU will achieve most of the outcomes in the Directive through EPR provisions. Given the diversity in approaches to EPR in Canada that could prove difficult to achieve as these efforts have firmly and institutionally rested with the provinces (and increasingly, territories) in Canada.  The ECCC is playing catch up and there are some questions related to their legislative authority over this mechanism without the support of the provinces. A comprehensive strategy around SUP will necessarily involve provincial /territorial for which the 2018 Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment’s (CCME) Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste was just the beginning of a new age of cooperation on (plastic) pollution.


About the Authors

Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm’s Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation.

Peter Hargreave, the President of Policy Integrity Inc., has over 15 years’ experience in providing strategic advice in the development, implementation and oversight of public policy. Over his professional career, he has developed a strong network of relationships with regulators, public and private organizations, and other key stakeholders involved in environmental issues across Canada, the United States and abroad. He has extensive experience in assessing waste management policies at the federal, provincial, and municipal level across the country. He has also played a key role in leading major research efforts in the waste management sector including data capture and analysis, and understanding the economic and environmental impacts of various waste management activities.