Canada: Plastics In The Spotlight Part 2

Last Updated: August 6 2019
Article by Julie Abouchar

Since we wrote about " Plastics in the Spotlight", there have been further developments in Canada. The Philippines shipment has been returned to Canada, additional countries have rejected waste shipments, and Federal, provincial and municipal governments across Canada are entertaining legislative responses and plastic bag bans.

Canadian Waste in Foreign Places

China's 2017 ban on the import of foreign garbage, including plastic has contributed to an increase of waste being shipped to various overseas locations.1 From 1992 to 2016, China imported 45% of the world's total plastic waste. Following the ban, illegal recycling factories began operating in developing countries to take advantage of the demand, by burning or burying plastic scraps.2

On June 29th, 2019, a ship carrying 69 storage containers of Canadian garbage and e-waste arrived in Vancouver from the Philippines.3 The containers were the subject of tensions between the Canadian and Philippines government, resulting from the mischaracterization of waste sent to the Philippines as recyclable plastic. When the Philippines government ultimately discovered that the containers contained regular garbage, they demanded the waste be sent back to Canada. Canada eventually agreed to pay for the return of the majority of the containers. The waste is being taken from Vancouver to an energy-from-waste facility, where it is being incinerated. Shipping the containers back to Canada cost the government $1.14 million, plus an additional $375,000 for the incineration.

In a move similar to the Philippines, Malaysia has vowed to start sending back any mischaracterized waste to its country of origin4 . The Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Environment and Climate Change stated that waste is being brought into the country in violation of environmental law. So far, Malaysia has identified 14 alleged offenders, including the United States and Canada.5

Additionally, Environment and Climate Change Canada is looking into claims from the Cambodian government that 13 Canadian shipping containers were discovered in the country's main port in Sihanoukville.6 The Cambodian government has stated that they oppose any import of plastic waste and lubricants for recycling. Similar to the scenario in Malaysia, the origin of the Canadian-identified waste in Cambodia is unknown. Since federal recyclable laws were amended three years ago, Ottawa has not issued any permits for Canadian companies to ship waste overseas.7

Federal and Provincial Reports, Bans and Legislative Responses

Canadian jurisdictions are scrambling to develop a plastics strategy that does not rely on export.

Prince Edward Island's Plastic Bag Reduction Act recently came into force on July 1, 2019, making it the first province to ban plastic bags.8 The Act prohibits businesses from providing plastic bags to customers.

The Ontario government is contemplating a ban on single use plastics in its discussion paper, released this spring9 and announced the appointment of a special advisor on recycling and plastic waste. The special advisor's report is expected this summer on how to resolve plastic waste and litter.10 The solution is expected to include measures to: improve recycling, increase the amount of products that can go to the blue box and ensure producer responsibility.

In the meantime, the federal government has announced a plan to ban single-use plastic by 2021 and to introduce standards for manufacturers of plastic products and companies that sell items with plastic packaging to become responsible for their waste. Both commitments support the previously developed Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste action plan.11

Footnotes

1.Aria Bendix, " Staggering photos show one small town covered in 19,000 tons of plastic waste", Business Insider, (28 May 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.com/malaysia-town-plastic-waste-china-photos-2019-2 .

2. Ibid.

3. Sean Boynton, "Ship carrying 69 containers of garbage arrives in Vancouver after journey from Philippines", Global News, (29 June 2019). Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/5445953/canadian-trash-arrives-philippines/

4.Rozanna Latiff, "Malaysia to send 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste back to countries of origin", Reuters, (28 May 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-waste-idUSKCN1SY0M7

5. Ibid.

6. Catharine Tunney, "As Cambodia complains about trash exports, environmentalist urge Canada to ban practice", CBC News, (21 July 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/garbage-pan-plastics-basel-1.5218031

7. Mia Rabson, "Canada hasn't issued any permits for companies to ship waste, government says", CBC News, (29 May 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/garbage-recycle-permits-mckenna-1.5154278

8. Nancy Russell, "P.E.I. prepares for new rules on plastic checkout bags", CBC News, (26 June 2019). Retrieved from:https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-plastic-checkout-bag-ban-preparations-1.5189684

9. Reducing Litter and Waste in our Communities Discussion Paper https://prod-environmentalregistry.s3.amazonaws.com/2019- 03/Reducing%20Litter%20and%20Waste%20in%20Our%20Communities%20Discussion%20Paper_0 .pdf

10. Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, "Ontario To Tackle Plastic Litter and Waste & Revamp Recycling", News Release, (7 June 2019). Retrieved from: https://news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2019/06/ontario-to-tackle-plastic-litter-and-waste-revamp-recycling.html?utm_source=ondemand&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=p

11. Unknown Author, "Government of Canada taking action to reduce plastic pollution", Government of Canada website, (10 June 2019). Retrieved from:https://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2019/06/10/government-canada-taking-action-reduce-plastic-pollution

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