Plastic Waste in Canada

Canada-wide rules to cut plastic waste proposed by 33 environmental groups

Zero plastics declaration wants 75% recycled content in single-use plastics, ban on PVC, styrofoam

A group of 33 environmental and civil society groups proposes more than a dozen Canada-wide policies that aim to eliminate plastic waste such as plastic straws by 2030. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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Canada should ban hard-to-recycle plastics  and require single-use plastics to contain 75 per cent recycled content. Those are some of more than a dozen recommended national policies put forward by a group of 33 environmental and civil society groups that aim to eliminate plastic waste by 2030.

The “Towards a Zero Plastic Waste Canada” declaration was released Monday by Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Broadbent Institute and dozens of other organizations ahead of the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., this week.

Canada has indicated that it will use its G7 presidency to push an international zero-plastics-waste charter. But it is also expected to commit to a national plastics strategy, said Ashley Wallis, plastics program manager for Environmental Defence.

“While there’s no doubt we need co-ordinated international efforts to eliminate the flow of plastics into our ocean, we need to make sure we do our part at home,” she added.

“We’re trying to provide a bit of an expectations document for what we hope to see in a national plastics strategy hopefully later this year.”

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, less than 11 per cent of plastics are currently recycled in Canada — only slightly better than the international average of 9 per cent. The statistics were posted in April on a website soliciting ideas from Canadians on how to reduce marine litter.

Some of the Canada-wide policies recommended in the declaration include:

  • Banning hard-to-recycle plastics and harmful additives. Wallis gave the examples of PVC, which is commonly used in pipes for water and gas and construction materials and contains chlorine, and styrofoam, which Wallace calls “quite challenging to recycle in an efficient or economically viable way.”
  • Establishing standards to make sure new materials billed as being more sustainable, such as bio-based or compostable plastics, really are.
  • Harmonizing provincial recycling targets to ensure 100 per cent of single-use plastics are captured and at least 85 per cent are recycled by 2025.
  • Provide incentives for reducing waste and increasing reusability of products and packaging. Wallis said examples could include a levy on single-use products like disposable plastic containers or legislation to deposit return programs for single-use containers.
  • Requiring single-use plastics to contain 75 per cent recycled content in single-use plastics.
  • Requiring provinces to have enforceable legislation requiring companies to be both financially and operationally responsible for collecting and recycling the materials they put on the market. (Currently, only B.C. has such legislation).
  • Declaring “problematic plastics (such as single-use plastics)” toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, as was done with microbeads.

​Wallis acknowledged that the target of 75 per cent recycled content for single-use plastics isn’t based on scientific reasoning. It was simply set to be higher than voluntary targets proposed by other groups, because the environmental groups “think we should push for more aggressive targets than what other people might be.”

She added that in order to meet that target, recycling systems made need to be changed to reduce contamination or single-use plastics items like disposable food containers and cutlery may need to be made of different kinds of plastics.

A government sanitary worker collects and segregate garbage, mostly assorted plastic products polluting in Manila Bay in July 2014.
The plastics declaration says a global plastics treaty should include a fund to support developing a ‘circular economy’ with recycling and reuse in developing countries. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

The declaration also makes five recommendations for what should be included in a global treaty including:

  • A goal of zero plastic waste by 2030 for signatories.
  • Global targets for reducing plastic pollution.
  • A fund to support developing a “circular economy” with recycling and reuse in developing countries.