Supporting Canada’s Zero Plastic Waste Agenda

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada is launching two consultations in support of its Zero Plastic Waste Agenda: 1) the development of labelling rules for recyclability and compostability (e.g., the use of the “chasing arrows”), and 2) the development of a federal plastics registry for producers of plastic products. These measures will help improve the collection and end-of-life management (e.g. reuse, recycling) of plastics and help keep these products out of our landfills and environment. The consultations will be open until October 7, 2022. A draft regulatory text for labelling rules is targeted for publication as early as mid-2023.

Rules for recyclability and compostability labelling

In Canada, plastic packaging represents nearly half of all the plastic that ends up in landfills. Currently, less than 15 percent of packaging waste is successfully recycled. Labels on plastic packaging that claim recyclability or compostability are often inaccurate, and Canadians are not given clear information about whether an item should be put in a recycling bin, a composting bin, or the garbage. This can result in confusion and products ending up in the wrong place.

New labelling rules would prohibit the use of the chasing-arrows symbol and other recyclability claims on plastic products unless at least 80 percent of Canadians have access to recycling systems that accept and have reliable end markets for them. This will help ensure that plastic products can be reprocessed and reintroduced to the market as part of a circular economy.

Additionally, to help prevent contamination from unwanted products in recycling and composting facilities, the Government also intends to regulate the use of terms such as “compostable,” “degradable,” and “biodegradable” in the labelling of plastic packaging and single-use items.

The proposed labelling rules would be part of new regulations aimed at improving plastics recycling through better product design. The proposed regulations would also include rules requiring minimum levels of recycled plastic in certain products, which the Government recently concluded consultations on through a discussion paper.

Federal plastics registry for producers of plastic products

The Government of Canada is also committed to developing a registry that would require producers to report annually on plastics in the Canadian economy. The federal plastics registry would collect data on the life cycle of plastics in Canada by requiring companies to report on the quantity of plastic products they place on the Canadian market and how these products are diverted from landfills at the end of their lives.

The Government of Canada supports provincial and territorial efforts to improve recycling systems through extended producer responsibility (EPR). EPR is a policy approach in which a producer is made responsible for the collection and management of products and packaging at the end of their life. Currently, reporting requirements for EPR programs are inconsistent across Canada and hard to access. As a result, it is difficult for Canadians to know how effective EPR is in helping to reduce plastic waste. A federal plastics registry would harmonize data collection, and make that data open by default and accessible in one place. This would make it easier to measure progress toward zero plastic waste, and support provinces and territories in making plastic producers responsible for their plastic waste.

The Government of Canada is considering requiring data to be reported on all major categories of plastic products, covering approximately 88 percent of all plastics placed on the Canadian market. These categories include packaging, construction, automotive, white goods (e.g. home appliances), electronic and electrical equipment, textiles, and agriculture.

Progress to date

On June 20, 2022, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, and the Minister of Health, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, published final regulations to prohibit single-use plastics, including checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics that are hard to recycle, ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws (with some exceptions).

According to a new survey released by Statistics Canada on July 19, Canadians are making progress on moving away from single-use plastics by using fewer disposable straws and relying on reusable bags, water bottles, and mugs. Nearly every surveyed household, or 97 percent, reported using their own bags or containers when grocery shopping. More than half (51 percent) said they did this all the time. Canadians are also reaching more for reusable water bottles, with nine in ten households reporting their use in 2021.

Other key elements of Canada’s approach toward reducing plastic pollution include establishing performance standards to increase the use of recycled content in certain plastic products and ensuring that manufacturers, importers, and sellers of plastic products and packaging are responsible for collecting and recycling them. The Government of Canada will continue to work collaboratively with its partners to advance its zero plastic waste agenda at home and abroad, including by working with provinces and territories through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to implement the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste, and Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the associated Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste.

Internationally, building on Canada’s 2018 G7 Presidency and its role as a champion of the Ocean Plastics Charter, the Government of Canada continues to advocate for the transition to a circular economy for plastics. As part of its commitment to the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada has invested $100 million to help developing countries address plastic pollution. Furthermore, at a recent United Nations Environment Assembly meeting, Canada, along with 175 other nations, endorsed a historical resolution to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

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