Single-Use Plastics Go Out With a Ban

Did you hear? The Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations (SUPPR) were officially released this week! After a long wait and multiple rounds of consultations with Canadians across the country, the federal Government presented the final version of the Regulations to ban six commonly-used plastics right here in Canada.

 

You might remember our blog back in December 2021, where we went over the essentials of the proposed Regulations and highlighted some problematic elements we thought needed to be improved. We also asked you to send the Government your feedback to ensure that the voices of Canadians were heard and reflected in the policy to reduce plastic pollution. You responded to our call for action, and the Government heard our concerns.

 

Based on the response to the draft Regulations, the Government made significant changes to the ban and further clarified the intention of the Regulations. We’re happy to say that the changes were positive and will have a lasting impact on the amount of single-use plastics entering our environment as litter. Here’s a breakdown of 5 important updates in this final version of the Regulations!

 

  1. Exports no more 

The biggest change from the initial draft to the final draft is that Canadian exports of the six single-use items will now be banned as well. Initially, exports of the banned items were to be permanently exempt from the ban for economic purposes. This is a monumental amendment to the Regulations, as it confirms the Government’s responsibility to reduce plastic waste not only in Canada, but globally. We know that plastic pollution leaks into common natural spaces, like our oceans, and that international boundaries are irrelevant to its impacts. When one country allows for plastic pollution, others experience the burden. It’s important that the Canadian government has identified the potential for global plastic pollution as a concern, and has made the decision through these Regulations not to pile onto the plastic waste problems of other countries through exports.

After receiving the feedback from NGOs and the public that an export exemption would be opposed to both the objective of the ban and to the Government of Canada’s commitment to reducing plastic pollution (domestically and globally). So…they changed it! In finding the balance between the environmental benefits of banning exports and not stifling economic activity for manufacturers, the Government has decided to allow exporters extra time to find a solution and pivot their business away from single-use plastics. As a result, the ban on exports of the six items will not come into effect until 2025. 

 

  1. What’s in a bag?

The final Regulations introduce a new definition of single-use checkout bags to ensure that all types of checkout bags are included within the scope of the ban. Under the new definition, all bags made out of plastic that are not considered to be fabric are covered by the ban. This means that a bag made of polyethylene film is included, but not a durable polyester, which is also made of plastic, but is recognized as a fabric used in many different clothing and textile applications. The definition also includes plastics that are considered as fabrics under the Textile Labelling Act, but still break or tear when washed at textile standards or used to carry a specific amount of weight. 

Initially, the Government defined a plastic checkout bag based on arbitrary weight carrying qualities and whether the bag was damaged when washed, which may have created a loophole for manufacturers. This definition may have prompted manufacturers to produce thicker disposable plastic bags that could withstand heavier weights and avoid tearing, but would still end up as plastic waste. Many other jurisdictions that have banned thinner plastic bags have seen this loophole result in the rise of thicker plastic bags. Thicker plastic bags take even longer to break down and leach even greater amounts of microplastics into the environment. The addition of the qualifier that the ban applies to all checkout bags that are not recognized as durable under international textile standards or as a fabric under the Textile Labelling Act will prevent the exploitation of this loophole.

 

  1. No thank you to non-conventional plastics

In the draft Regulations, there was no differentiation between non-conventional (e.g., compostable or bioplastic) plastics and conventional single-use plastics. Many non-conventional plastic manufacturers were opposed to banning non-conventional plastic counterparts, stating that it would prevent innovation and eliminate the potential environmental benefits of plant-based plastics. Municipal governments and recyclers agreed with treating non-conventional plastics in the same manner as banned plastics because there is a lack of infrastructure to process non-conventional plastics. Most non-conventional plastics are lauded as compostable, but must be composted in industrial facilities that are not common in Canada. These same plastics are often not recyclable, but look identical to recyclable petroleum-based plastics. The mixing up of compostable and conventional plastics contaminates recycling streams and impedes recycling systems.

In the final draft of the Regulations, the Government has maintained that non-conventional plastic alternatives for these six plastic items must also be banned. With this decision, the Canadian Government is reaffirming that the single-use plastic ban isn’t about eliminating plastic for the sake of eliminating plastic, it’s about finding sustainable solutions to plastic waste. Because non-conventional plastics produce similar amounts of problematic waste as “regular” single-use plastics within the current waste management system in Canada, banning them will prevent further waste. However, the Government did note that it will continue to work with stakeholders to conduct research, and spur innovation in the non-conventional plastics space to create new opportunities in the future.

 

  1. A timeline for implementation

The final Regulations also provide a concrete look at when the ban will apply. Here’s a brief overview of the ban timeline and when the ban on each of the items will come into effect:

  • 6 months after the Regulations are registered (December 2022)
    • Ban on manufacturing and import of SUP checkout bags, SUP cutlery, SUP foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics, SUP stir sticks, and SUP straws
  • 12 months after the Regulations are registered (June 2023)
    • Ban on the manufacture and import of SUP ring carriers 
  • 18 months after the Regulations are registered (December 2023)
    • Ban on sale of SUP checkout bags, SUP cutlery, SUP foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics, SUP stir sticks, and SUP straws
    • Manufacture and import of SUP flexible straws will not be banned as there is a need to ensure supply for accessibility purposes, but their sale will also be subject to special rules that will come into force eighteen months after registration
  • 24 months after the Regulations are registered (June 2024)
    • Ban on sale of SUP ring carriers
  • 42 months after the Regulations are registered (December 2025)
    • Ban on the manufacture, import and sale for the purposes of export for all categories of SUPs

 

  1. Expanding the ban

The Government has selected these six specific SUP items based on their environmental impacts and their value-recovery issues. Based on this analysis, it was determined that these six items needed to be banned. In establishing the reasoning for banning the six items, the Government recognized there are many other problematic plastic items that have been considered for regulation as well. These are items that are frequently seen on beaches and collected during cleanups across the country. Currently, cigarette filters are being assessed to determine whether they are problematic enough to require further action.

We recommend that the Government does in fact expand the ban to include further single-use plastic items. They should continue to build on the SUPs prohibition Regulations to include:

  • Hot and cold beverage cups and lids
  • Multilayered packaging (e.g. wrappers, sachets, and stand-up pouches)
  • Single-use plastic wrappings (e.g. plastic shrink wrap, produce wrapping, and plastic wraps on floral arrangements)
  • Single-use bottles and caps
  • Cigarette filters

 

All of these items cause as much harm to the environment as the currently banned items, and require the same level of action. The first six items are incredibly important as a first step, but single-use plastics are extremely entrenched in our daily lives. It’s just as important to keep the momentum going and make an even greater impact on plastic waste reduction by expanding the ban. 

 

We’re excited to see the fully realized final version of these Regulations and we look forward to them coming into force over the next few years. This is a time to celebrate and congratulate! Celebrate all the hard work by groups and individuals across the country to make sure these regulations meaningfully reduce single-use plastic waste in Canada. There is still work to do and further plastic waste tackle, but this is a significant step and a reminder that advocating for plastic pollution reduction results in real change. So congratulations– to the Government of Canada for being a global leader in plastic reduction, and to YOU, for using your voice and making such an incredible contribution to Canadian plastic policy. 

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