March 29, 2022
Could 2022 be the year that Canada reaches ‘peak plastic?’
BY: Anthony Merante
Originally published in the Hill Times.
Could this be the year that Canada reaches “peak plastic,” marking the beginning of the end of the growing plastic disaster? With the soon-to-be-implemented ban on certain single-use plastics, and commitments to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have a real opportunity to ensure Canada’s use of unnecessary single-use plastic peaks this year, and is reduced every year going forward.
With the announcement of the proposed ban on single-use plastics in October 2020, the Canadian government signalled it was taking the first step to tackle the plastic disaster and has committed to further action to end plastic waste by 2030.
However, to be successful in reaching this laudable goal, Guilbeault must ensure the single-use ban’s draft regulations are strengthened in a few critical areas, and address some troublesome loopholes before the regulations are finalized this year. Here are five key improvements to the regulations that can help stop the exponential growth of single-use plastics in Canada and put us on the path to zero plastic waste by 2030.
First, the phase-out period for the proposed banned items needs to be shortened. Currently, for some items the ban does not come into effect until 2024. This slow implementation will result in billions of additional single-use plastic items polluting our environment. As Guilbeault said himself, “We need to learn to do things faster.”
Second, the list of banned items also needs to be expanded. The draft regulations omit some of the most common and problematic single-use plastic found on Canada’s shorelines, such as take-away coffee cups and single-use drink cups and their lids, despite research by the federal government that shows these items are harmful to the environment, and reusable alternatives exist that, where available, have already been readily adopted by consumers.
Third, the regulations should ban the export as well as the use of these items. If we can’t sell it in Canada, we shouldn’t be exporting the problem to other countries.
Fourth, a loophole needs to be closed that allows some single-use plastic items to be replaced by more durable—but still single-use—plastic. As drafted, plastic forks that persist in the environment for 1,000 years could be replaced by thicker ones that could conceivably persist longer. There is nothing in the regulations to stop companies from using plastic wrap to replace plastic rings for carrying beverages. There are so many non-plastic alternatives that are not as harmful to the environment: An effective ban should promote sustainable solutions, like refill and reuse, rather than allow the substitution of other forms of plastic pollution.
Finally, the ban on single-use plastic products will need to be agile, ready to be updated as problematic plastics persist and new problematic plastics try to enter the market. We suggest a biannual review be added to the regulations to consider additional problematic plastic products and steer producers to create products that can participate in the circular economy. There is no more time to waste. With an effective ban, Canada can show leadership on plastic pollution on the global stage. We need to reduce plastic waste now, starting with stronger regulations to ban unnecessary single-use plastics.
Polling conducted for Oceana Canada found that 90 per cent of Canadians want to see the ban enacted, and 67 per cent want more ambitious leadership from our government. Let’s make 2022 the year of peak single-use plastic use in Canada, and create a cleaner, healthy future for Canada and the world.