Ban on single-use plastics import, manufacture starts December

Saying no to plastic straws
In Canada, up to 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used every year and approximately 16 million straws are used daily. Single-use plastics like these make up most of the plastic litter found on shorelines across Canada. Photo credit: Kmatta,

Now that the federal government has finalized regulations for a single-use plastics ban, it won’t be long before Canadians no longer have access to items such as plastic cutlery and checkout bags in retail environments.

The first part of the ban covers the manufacture and import of six single-use plastics that many experts have found harmful to the environment and biodiversity, as well as comprising most of the plastic litter found on Canada’s shorelines.

Rounding out the list of banned items under the new regulations are some forms of takeout food packaging, beverage carrier rings, stir sticks, and most plastic straws.

In the category of plastic checkout bags alone, Canadians use some 15 billion every year. Overall, the country is able to recycle just 9% of its plastic waste.

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“By the end of the year, you won’t be able to manufacture or import these harmful plastics,” announced the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, in a statement. “After that, businesses will begin offering the sustainable solutions Canadians want, whether that’s paper straws or reusable bags. With these new regulations, we’re taking a historic step forward in reducing plastic pollution, and keeping our communities and the places we love clean,” added Guilbeault.

While the manufacturing and import prohibition on the single-used plastics begins in December 2022, the items will still appear on store shelves for sale until December of 2023. A ban on the export of plastics in the six categories will occur by the end of 2025, making Canada the first among peer jurisdictions to do so internationally, federal officials stated.

Over the next decade, Environment and Climate Change officials estimate that the new single-use plastics ban will result in the elimination of more than 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution. This is equivalent to more than a million garbage bags full of litter.

“Today’s announcement ensures that Canada is embarking on a true transition away from unnecessary single-use plastics,” announced Anthony Merante, plastics campaigner at Oceana Canada, in a statement. “This victory means that billions of plastic items each year that otherwise could have threatened sea life like whales and turtles will no longer be adding to the global plastic disaster.”

The department has also published two guidance documents. One is designed to help businesses adjust to the new regulations, and the other is to help anybody in Canada choose more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics.

Takeout, or foodservice ware, under the ban will cover items that use expanded polystyrene foam, extruded polystyrene foam, polyvinyl chloride, carbon black, and oxodegradable plastic.

Exceptions to the ban on straws allow single-use plastic flexible straws to remain available for people in Canada who require them for medical or accessibility reasons. This includes for use at home, in social settings, or in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and long‑term care facilities. All other types of single-use plastic straws will be prohibited, officials announced.

In 2019, companies such as Starbucks and Tim Hortons introduced “strawless” lids for cold drinks, allowing customers to consume cold drinks without a straw. Other restaurants, like A&W, made the switch from plastic straws to paper straws in 2019. Red Lobster is sourcing and testing a variety of plastic straw replacements, one of them being red licorice.

In 2021, fast-food chain McDonalds eliminated plastic stir sticks, straws and cutlery at more than 1,400 franchises across Canada. These items were replaced by wooden alternatives. By eliminating these items, it is estimated that 840 tonnes of plastic are being diverted annually from landfills.

This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s August 2022 issue:

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