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Canada releases draft regs for key part of single-use plastics ban

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Following some delay, the federal government managed to publish its draft regulations prohibiting six types of single-use plastic products within its expected timeline.

The long-awaited document from Environment and Climate Change Canada came unexpectedly on Christmas Day, finally giving Canadians an opportunity to weigh in over the next three months through the public comment process, despite the department signaling that Canadians would have to wait until sometime in the new year to even see the plastics plan delayed by the pandemic.

The proposed regulations represent phase three of Canada’s plastic crackdown, and will target the manufacture, import and sale of checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics, beverage ring carriers, stir sticks, and lastly, straws, which will be allowed several exemptions.

These products alone represent an estimated 160,000 tonnes sold in 2019, or an estimated 5% of the total plastic waste generated in Canada in 2019, the department states. The ban is expected to result in a net decrease of approximately 1.4 million tonnes in plastic waste over a 10-year period.

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A Deloitte study estimated that some 2,500 tonnes of the plastic waste generated in Canada in 2016 entered the oceans as plastic pollution.

“The proposed Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations are a big step forward in our goal to reduce plastic pollution and move to a circular economy for plastics,” announced Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in an official statement. “Smart, clear and collaborative regulations will help drive innovation across the country as reusable and easier-to-recycle items take their place in our economy,” he added.

The ban aims to begin with manufacturing and imports before prohibiting sales, to allow for a transition period that gives businesses time to deplete remaining stock and adapt to the potential new rules with minimal disruption.

The exemptions for plastic straws take into consideration people with certain disabilities and those who may need them for medical reasons, but there will be limits on where and how they are sold.

The prohibitions on the sale of straws would come into force one year after the proposed regulations are registered. The prohibition on the sale of all other single-use items would come into force two years after the proposed regulations are registered.

The draft regulations provide supporting reasons for the ban that go beyond their obvious impact on aquatic ecosystems. For instance, the regs note that plastic shopping bags have low recycling rates and are “known to hamper recycling systems by becoming caught up in sorting and processing machinery.” These items are also by far the single greatest offender on the list, accounting for nearly 125,000 tonnes of waste per year, with the next closest, plastic cutlery, accounting for about 11,000 tonnes of waste per year.

Beverage stir sticks and ring carriers, as well as plastic cutlery, are not typically accepted in provincial or municipal recycling systems.

Several municipal and provincial jurisdictions have already implemented bans on a selection of these six categories of single-use plastics.

When it comes to substitutes for the six types of plastic products, they are made from a variety of materials, including durable plastics, metals, woods, glass, silicone and fabrics.

In October 2020, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health published a Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution.

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