Developing recycled content and labelling rules for plastics
Canadians are concerned about the impact of plastic waste and want concrete action to improve the recycling of plastics and prevent pollution. A circular economy for plastic packaging can only be achieved through cooperation between all levels of government, as well as with industry leaders. Federal, provincial and territorial governments each have a role to play in driving systems change in Canadian recycling streams.
The Government proposes to publish regulations using authorities under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) to implement rules which drive circular economy goals and further Canada’s plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030. The proposed regulations would have 3 key elements:
- recycled content requirements that mandate minimum levels of post-consumer recycled plastics in packaging
- recyclability labelling rules requiring accurate information be communicated to Canadians on whether packaging or SUPs are recyclable, and how to dispose of them properly
- compostability labelling rules prohibiting the terms “biodegradable” or “degradable” on plastic packaging and SUPs and limiting the use of the term “compostable” to plastics that meet certain standards and labelling requirements
Recycled content requirements
The Government will require plastic packaging in Canada to contain at least 50% recycled content by 2030. This supports the target of 50% recycled content in plastic products by 2030, endorsed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment as part of Phase 1 of the Canada-wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste (PDF).
Recycled content requirements would be expected to:
- provide stronger and more certain market demand for recycled plastics;
- create market pressures for increased collection, sorting and recycling of plastic waste;
- create incentives for investments in supportive infrastructure and innovation;
- reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills, incinerators, and that enters the environment as pollution; and
- decrease greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production
Labelling rules for plastic packaging and single-use plastics
Currently, plastic packaging makes up approximately half of all plastic waste, but less than 15% of plastic packaging is recycled. The Government will introduce labelling rules for plastic packaging and single-use plastics. Labelling rules for recyclability would prohibit the use of the chasing-arrows symbol and other recyclability claims on plastic packaging and single-use plastics unless at least 80% of Canadians have access to recycling systems that accept these plastics, which are then reliably sorted and re-processed for use in new products. These rules would seek to:
- improve plastic packaging design
- improve public participation in recycling systems
- reinforce public trust in recycling and
- improve the performance of recycling systems to generate more and higher-quality post-consumer recycled plastics
Compostable, biodegradable and biobased plastics may offer upstream environmental benefits such as carbon savings over fossil-based plastics and the potential to contribute to Canada’s bioeconomy. However, these plastics are currently problematic to manage at their end of life.
Labelling rules would:
- prohibit the labelling of plastics as biodegradable, degradable, or similar terms that imply breakdown in the natural environment;
- set minimum standards for plastics labelled as compostable, as well as labelling rules enabling these plastics to be distinguished from conventional plastics
The proposed recycled content and labelling measures would:
- strengthen recycling by addressing the supply of plastics introduced into recycling systems
- strengthen the demand for recycled plastics produced by those systems
- help recover the value of plastics by strengthening recycling in Canada and contributing to a strong secondary market.
- support the diversion of compostable plastics from landfills to organic waste management systems; and
- prevent the contamination of conventional plastic recycling streams with non-recyclable plastics
Recycled content requirements
In October 2020, ECCC published the discussion paper A proposed integrated management approach to plastic products to prevent waste and pollution. The discussion paper outlined the steps the Government of Canada is taking toward eliminating plastic pollution in Canada, including proposing regulations to require recycled content in plastic products and packaging. It sought input from Canadians on: options for a regulatory approach for recycled content requirements (for example, product-based, resin-based or economy-wide approach), scope of products and resins, and other considerations.
The publication of the discussion paper was followed by a 60-day public comment period and a series of webinars, including one that focused on recycled content requirements: Establishing Performance Standards.
In August 2021, a What we heard report was published and summarized the feedback received on the discussion paper from written comments, stakeholder discussion sessions and webinars.
Notice of intent, consultation and public comment
On February 11, 2022, Environment and Climate Change Canada published a Notice of Intent in the Canada Gazette, Part I, to inform, and seek early feedback from, interested parties on the development of regulations, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), to require minimum recycled content in certain plastic manufactured items.
A document entitled Technical issues paper related to the Recycled content for certain plastic manufactured items Regulations was also published. It provides an overview of the purpose, context and key elements of the proposed regulations, along with proposed categories of packaging that would be subject to requirements. It also sought responses on specific questions to help guide the regulatory development process.
Publication of the Notice of Intent was followed by a 30-day public comment period. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) also hosted 5 virtual engagement sessions focused on product scope, definitions, measurement and reporting, and verification.
The public comment period closed on March 14, 2022. Feedback received during the public comment period is being taken into account as the proposed Regulations are developed.
Labelling rules for plastic packaging and single-use plastics
On July 25, 2022, Environment and Climate Change Canada published the Consultation paper: towards Canada-wide rules to strengthen recycling and composting of plastics through accurate labelling on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA) registry. The publication informed, and sought early feedback from, interested parties on the development of a regulation under CEPA that would outline rules for recyclability and compostability labelling of plastic packaging and single-use plastics.
A 70-day public comment period followed the publication of the consultation document. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) also hosted 2 overview webinars and 3 technical sessions focused on recycling systems and end markets, plastic packaging and compostability labelling. The public comment period closed on October 7, 2022.
What we heard report
In February 2023, we published a What we heard report which summarized the feedback received on the proposed labelling rules from written comments, stakeholder discussion sessions and webinars.
Unifying requirements and rules
The recycled content requirements and labelling rules are complementary and have been unified to find efficiencies and reduce the burdens of compliance. Working together, the combined impact of these measures would be greater by exerting coordinate pressure in key points in the packaging lifecycle to achieve transformative changes:
- recycled content strengthens demand and market certainty for recycled plastic; and
- labelling improves the quality of supply to the recycling stream via accurate information.
These federal measures also complement provincial and territorial initiatives to make producers of plastic products responsible for collecting and managing them at end-of-life. These extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies increase collection rates and drive performance improvements across the recycling stream via outcomes-based targets focused on collection, sorting and recycling rates.
Figure 1, below, illustrates how each of these measures can work together by targeting different points in the packaging lifecycle:
The image graphic depicts one circular chasing arrows loop inside another. The exterior loop displays how extended producer responsibility (EPR) links to recycled content, how recycled content links to labelling, and how labelling links back to EPR. The interior loop displays how sorting links to reprocessing, how reprocessing links to design, manufacturing and marketing, how design, manufacturing and marketing links to end use, how end-use links to collection, and how collection links back to sorting.
Regulatory framework paper
On April 18, 2023, we published the Recycled content and labelling rules for plastics Regulatory framework paper on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA) registry. The regulatory framework paper has taken into account feedback collected from stakeholders during previous public consultation periods on the proposed rules and requirements.
The paper outlines a regulatory framework for plastic packaging and certain single-use plastics that includes recycled content requirements and labelling rules for recyclability and compostability. It serves as an updated and more detailed overview of the regulatory approach the Government is proposing for the proposed regulations. Projected impacts include:
- strengthening market demand and certainty through recycled content requirements;
- providing a quality supply of recycled plastics and accurate information through labelling rules; and
- increasing collection rates and driving performance through EPR programs.
A 30-day public comment period will follow the publication of the Regulatory framework paper. The public comment period closed on May 18, 2023.
The proposed recycled content and labelling regulations are targeted for publication in the Canada Gazette, Part I, before the end of 2023, followed by a public comment period.
- Government of Canada consulting on new measures to require certain plastic items be made of at least 50% recycled material
- Developing rules for recyclability and compostability labelling and a federal plastics registry – What we heard report
- Consultation paper: Towards Canada-wide rules to strengthen recycling and composting of plastics through accurate labelling
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Plastics Regulatory Affairs Division
351 St. Joseph Blvd., Place Vincent Massey
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3
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