expanded polystyrene container

Canadian order labels plastics ‘toxic’

Plastics industry associations advocate for improving recycling instead.

May 14, 2021

The plastics industry in the U.S. and Canada are speaking out against the Canadian government’s addition of “plastic manufactured items” to Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). The move enables the country’s ministers to propose measures designed to manage the potential ecological risks associated with those items becoming plastic pollution.

According to the Canada Gazette Part II published May 12, a consultation process occurred before the order was published. Throughout that process, 123 industry associations or individual companies, two provincial governments and one foreign government indicated opposition to the proposed order.

“Several industry stakeholders argued that CEPA is not the appropriate tool to manage plastic waste, suggesting instead that new legislation should be created or that the federal government should let provincial and territorial governments manage this issue,” the Canada Gazette Part II reads. “The departments responded that they will work with partners and stakeholders to ensure that any risk management measures developed under CEPA are appropriate, fit-for-purpose and avoid unintended consequences.”

Additionally, according to the Canada Gazette Part II, some industry stakeholders, including domestic plastics manufacturers and recyclers, say adding plastic manufactured items to Schedule 1 to CEPA could result in “economic harm through decreased investment, decreased consumer demand or increased costs. In particular, they highlighted potential import restrictions, increased handling and transportation costs, and increased compliance burden, such as the need to update safety data sheets.”

Some stakeholders advocated for increased collaboration on new recycling and disposal technologies to improve waste management as an alternative to the order.

The Canadian government says the order does not ban or restrict the use of plastic manufactured items, though others say this is the first step toward a potential ban of certain single-use plastic items. In fact, Canada’s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced six single-use plastic items—straws, stir sticks, cutlery, six-pack rings, carryout bags and expanded polystyrene plates and takeout containers—that will be banned because they are harmful to the environment and difficult to recycle.

The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), Ottawa, Ontario, has expressed its disappointment with move. In a news release, the CIAC says it is “concerned” the decision “sends the wrong message to global chemistry investors, namely that Canada is ambivalent about the enormous investment prospects for the circular economy for plastics.”  

The news release also states, “CIAC continues to believe that CEPA is not an appropriate legislative instrument for managing postconsumer plastics. This is why we are advocating instead for a national circular economy framework that includes six strategic areas of focus to build a circular economy for plastics in Canada.” That framework includes product design, increased access to recycling and collection, improved sorting capabilities, strengthened mechanical and advanced recycling capabilities, growth and expansion of end markets and engagement and education of consumers.  

The CIAC adds, “We will continue to work with the federal government to understand the scope of impacts on businesses stemming from regulations expected later this year. Our attention remains firmly focused on working with the provinces to advance extended producer responsibility initiatives coast to coast and creating more enabling policy and investment environments to support a circular economy for plastics.”

Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), based in Washington, also issued a statement about the order that reads, “America’s plastic makers are deeply committed to ending plastic waste, but listing ‘plastic manufactured items’ as ‘CEPA toxic’ is likely to cause undue alarm and confusion among consumers who have relied on these helpful, well-studied plastic products for decades. Banning efficient plastic products will likely lead to forced substitutions with alternatives that increase greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the transition to a low-carbon future.”

The ACC points to a study by Trucost that the trade group sponsored that found that replacing common plastic packages and products with alternatives would increase environmental costs nearly four times, while a second study the ACC sponsored found that switching from plastic packaging to alternatives would increase the amount of packaging generated annually by 55 million tons and increase greenhouse emissions gases by 130 percent.

The Plastics Industry Association, Washington, also issued a news release regarding the order, saying, it “opens the door for the creation of rules to officially ban certain types of plastic products.”

Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the association, says such a label could have harmful effects on cross-border trade.  

“Our two countries are powerful plastics economies,” he says. “This development is a symbolic gesture to activists and threatens tens of billions of dollars of commerce. The idea that plastic is toxic is the true danger. Such a label could have ramifications far beyond some single-use items. It could fast-track more bans on other consumer products that are fully recyclable. Our main concern should be improving recycling.

“Banning a material that has transformed modern medicine in the name of public health is absurd, especially during a pandemic necessitating plastic gloves, masks, ventilators, vaccine packaging and more. When we’re so close to real solutions, we shouldn’t pursue policies that reverse course on progress and punish ordinary people.”