Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says Canada will ban companies from importing or making plastic bags and Styrofoam takeout containers by the end of this year, their sale by the end of next year and their export by the end of 2025.
The move to ban exports will be a welcome change for environment advocates who were dismayed that Canada’s initial plan was to ban the items at home but continue to ship them abroad.
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Guilbeault is publishing the final regulations enacting the ban today.
In addition to bags and takeout boxes, the ban will affect plastic straws, bags, cutlery, stir sticks and six-pack rings that hold cans and bottles.
There is some limited exception for straws to accommodate people with disabilities.
The federal government listed plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act last year, which paved the way for regulations to ban some of them.
However, a consortium of plastics producers is suing the government over the toxic designation, in a case expected to be heard later this year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first promised in June 2019 that his government would phase out the production and use of hard-to-recycle plastic items as it aims for zero plastic waste by the end of the decade.
Initially, he said the ban would happen in 2021, but the scientific assessment of plastics needed to put the ban in motion was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government is also intending to impose standards requiring a minimum amount of recycled content in single-use items, in a bid to create a bigger market for plastic material from recycling plants.
Canada’s domestic recycling industry is very small, and the demand for recycled plastics quite limited.
3.3M tonnes of plastic thrown out in 2019: report
Plastic waste has been a growing problem around the world, with an estimated 10 per cent or less of most manufactured plastic recycled.
A research study published by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2019 found 3.3 million tonnes of plastic was thrown out, almost half of it plastic packaging. Less than one-tenth of that was recycled. Most of the plastic ended up in landfills, where it will take hundreds of years to decompose.
An estimated 29,000 tonnes ended up as plastic pollution, littering parks, forests, waterways and shorelines with cigarette butts, food wrappers and disposable coffee cups.
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup project in 2019 removed more than 163,000 kilograms of plastic waste from nearly 4,000 kilometres of shoreline in Canada. The documented haul included more than 12,000 plastic bottles, 12,480 plastic straws and almost 17,000 plastic bags.
Federal data show in 2019, 15.5 billion plastic grocery bags, 4.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, three billion stir sticks, 5.8 billion straws, 183 million six-pack rings and 805 million takeout containers were sold in Canada.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have already taken their own action against plastic bags as have some cities including Regina, Victoria and Montreal.
Some retailers also moved faster than the government, with Sobeys eliminating single-use plastic bags at its checkout counters in 2020, and Walmart following suit this past April.
Many fast food outlets replaced plastic straws with paper versions over the last several years as well.