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Feds will promote national EPR program as part of new plastics strategy

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 10/9/2020 3:19:00 PM

In the shadow of the headline-grabbing announcement of a ban on six problematic plastic products, there lurks a far more environmentally significant announcement: the federal government will develop regulations requiring a minimum recycled content in plastic products and will coordinate with the provinces and territories to develop a consistent national extended producer responsibility (EPR) program for plastics.

The announcement is not a surprise; these measures have been part of the federal government’s long-term agenda since the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment adopted its Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste in November 2018. Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s October 7, 2020 announcement has added specific products and target dates to the strategy.

The federal government is targeting the end of 2021 for a ban on six products:

  • plastic checkout bags
  • stir sticks
  • six-pack rings
  • cutlery
  • straws
  • food service ware made from problematic plastics.

All of these products are difficult or too costly to recycle and have readily-available, inexpensive alternatives, Wilkinson told a news conference. Industry has already shifted away from them. That’s why they were chosen, and they represent less than 1% of plastic products currently in use in Canada.

For the rest, the government will look to stimulate market demand and industry innovation through mandatory recycled content requirements and an EPR program. When pressed by reporters, Wilkinson said he would like to have a program in place within the next 12 to 24 months.

He would not commit to recycling targets, however. Not yet. The government has released a discussion paper to begin the process of setting targets. However, Wilkinson added that “the fact that European countries believe that 90% is feasible is an appropriate place to start.” Canada currently recycles only 9% of its plastic waste, according to Wilkinson.

Greenpeace Canada accused the government of caving in to the plastics industry.

“After three years of promising to tackle plastic waste and pollution, and to create a strategy that moves Canada towards zero plastic waste, the federal government has instead continued to largely rely on the recycling myth and a bare minimum ban list,” said Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada’s Head of Oceans & Plastics campaign, in a statement released October 7, 2020.

“The only way to prevent toxic substances from getting into the environment is to ban all of them,” said King.

Regulating plastics at the federal level will require them to be listed under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 as a toxic substance, something the plastics industry has vigorously opposed. Wilkinson conceded that plastics are harmful, not toxic in the true sense of the word, but that the designation is simply one of nomenclature.

“Toxic Substances” simply happens to be the heading of Schedule 1, and if that needs to be changed to appease the industry, it could be, he said. A modernization of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 was one of the commitments in the September 23, 2020 federal Speech from the Throne.

Comments on “Discussion paper: A proposed integrated management approach to plastic products to prevent waste and pollution” will be accepted until December 9, 2020.

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