Acting on Plastic Waste and Packaging – What All Levels of Government Should Consider First

By Fé de Leon, CELA and Olga Speranskaya, Health and Environment Justice Support

Extended producer responsibility and toxic free circular economy are key to design innovations

Opportunities to take strong and decisive actions to address the growing concern from plastic use and their impacts to the environment and health has been quietly the focus of discussions at the federal and provincial levels. Over the past few years, both levels of governments made commitments towards a circular economy as part of their waste strategies, but progress would require substantial improvements to recycling efforts through environmentally sound management approaches and innovative product design.

Meanwhile, Canada recycles only 9% of its plastic waste with Ontario’s recycling efforts stay at just 7% of waste collected through the blue box while. Recent policy and regulatory proposals at both levels suggest significant gaps exist in their respective approach to ensure an effective circular economy is in place.

In addition, these discussions and proposed approaches often lack any consideration of addressing the use of toxic additives in products and toxic chemicals used in the production process of plastics, including plastic packaging or their releases into the environment from end of life management. The recirculation of hazardous chemicals, including those which are already banned globally into new materials recycled waste is one more issue that should be addressed properly. Low attention to toxic chemicals in recyclable waste undermines the importance of both recycling and the circular economy making these approaches to waste management unsafe for people and the environment.

Here is what CELA and the NGO community have highlighted over the past few months in response to governments’ initiatives to plastic waste and other materials collected for recycling.

The Canadian government is developing a national plastic strategy to deal with plastics and plastic waste to minimise impacts to the environment. However, Canada has yet to ratify key international agreements focused on plastics. This includes amendments to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, to Annexes on plastic waste, which will require establishing a prior informed consent regime for exporting a wide range of plastics. The changes to the Basel Convention entered into force March 24, 2020 and goes into effect January 1 2021.

Canadian Environmental Law Association and Health and Environment Justice Support prepared commentary on the current status of Canada’s position on the Basel Convention Plastic Amendments. Read more here.

Meanwhile, Ontario is implementing its strategies to address printed paper and packing materials including plastics collected through its blue box program covered under Ontario’s Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act. CELA, Environmental Defence, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Citizens Network on Waste Management, Health and Environmental Justice Support, Recycling Council of Ontario and Waste Watch Ottawa provided comments on gaps in Ontario’s approach for developing Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations for plastics and other materials collected in the blue box program. Over 50 NGOs in Ontario released a statement: Ontario Recycling is the Last Resort calling for change. Read it here.