On Oct. 7, 2020, federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced the federal government would draft regulations to add “plastic manufactured items” to the Schedule 1 list of toxic substances under the Canada Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) by December 2021. The regulatory plan would ban certain single-use plastics (SUPs), set recycled-content requirements for plastic products and packaging, and develop standards for extended producer responsibility and would be phased in over eight years. One day prior to the tabling of the draft federal plan on regulating SUPs, the Alberta government announced it was planning to expand its petrochemical sector, hoping this would generate more than $30 billion in economic growth by 2030 and Alberta’s industry would become a top 10 global petrochemical and plastics producer and recycler. This article looks at various aspects of the proposed federal plastics regulatory plan including potential complications arising from the public and provinces.
On Oct. 7, 2020, federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced the federal government would draft regulations to add “plastic manufactured items” to the Schedule 1 list of toxic substances under the Canada Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) by December 2021 and begin to phase them out in bans over eight years.2This designation comes after a scientific assessment undertaken by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Health Canada found plastics to be harmful to the environment. The goal of the initial regulations would be to ban six types of SUP items, including plastic straws, stir sticks, take-out bags, cutlery, dishes and takeout containers and six-pack rings. Designating these SUPs as toxic is a required step in order to ban the planned items. It is noteworthy that numerous industry stakeholders and plastics packaging manufacturers and users expressed opposition to the proposed findings set out in the draft scientific assessment and the ECCC/HC proposal to designate plastics as “toxic” under CEPA, as noted in the ECCC’s summary of consultations on the document.
What remains to be seen is whether all of the provinces will continue to fully support efforts by the federal government to ban and regulate SUPs in the wake of the COVID pandemic. The current loose “consensus” developed by the Canadian Council for Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in 2018 and 2019 may not survive, especially if more recently elected provincial governments withdraw their support (or even mount legal challenges) to any SUP bans or phase-outs to be established. They could argue that any changes to federal and provincial laws to facilitate plastics bans or mandatory recycling should be delayed until the threat of the pandemic is considered sufficiently managed through vaccines and other public health measures.