Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ottawa wants to find how much plastic producers are making, and where it ends up | CBC News

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Plastic producers will be required to detail the quantity and type of plastic they put into the Canadian market under new rules announced Monday.

The categories covered by the federal government’s new registry are wide-ranging, including packaging for single-use and disposable products, construction, electronics and transportation.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the registry “will require plastic producers to take more responsibility for the plastic they put on the market.”

“Every year from now on, they must declare the quantity and types of plastic they supply, how these plastics move through the economy, and how they are managed at the end of their life,” he said at a news conference.

The announcement comes on the eve of an international summit in Ottawa. Negotiators from 176 countries will gather in downtown Ottawa this week for the fourth round of talks to create a global treaty to eliminate plastic waste in less than 20 years.

The registry is part of the federal government’s overall effort to reduce plastic waste in Canada. Canadians throw away more than four million tonnes of plastic waste every year, according to the federal government. Only nine per cent is recycled, with the bulk ending up in landfills.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, centre, speaks with Indonesian climate activist Aeshnina Azzahra, right, following a rally Sunday on Parliament Hill, ahead of this week’s negotiations. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

One of the federal government’s key efforts to address the problem was dealt a blow in November when a judge struck down a key policy upholding a ban on single-use plastics. 

Ottawa has announced it’s appealing that decision.

When it comes to the new registry, provinces and territories have similar programs in place but data collection is inconsistent across jurisdictions, according to a analysis published last year by Environment Canada.

The document said a federal registry would “standardize the data” and “provide useful information for stakeholders, government and Canadians.” 

Making producers more accountable

Sabaa Khan, climate director for the David Suzuki Foundation, said the announcement is an important step in making plastic producers more accountable.  

Khan said it will be important to ensure plastic producers are transparent about the types of plastic being produced as some can lead to serious health problems.

“We really need to know what kind of plastics are being produced from a chemical perspective, because at the end of the day, we need to phase out the toxic components,” she said in an interview.

A recent report funded by the Norwegian Research Council found as many as 16,000 additives used in the production of plastics. 

“Twenty five per cent are known to be harmful,” said Tony Walker, professor of resource and environmental studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “We don’t have data on the other 75 per cent.” 

Walker says this information is often proprietary but is needed to understand the health impacts of plastics, which are found “in every single environmental compartment on Earth, including ourselves.” 

He said Monday’s announcement wouldn’t compel producers to reveal this information but would shine a light on plastic’s life cycle.

Making the link to fossil fuels

In particular, the registry will make the connection between fossil fuels and plastics clearer to the public, said Myra Hird, professor in the school of environmental studies at Queen’s University.

“I think the fact that plastics are derived from fossil fuels is not something that we’re used to really thinking about,” Hird said on CBC News Network.

“Canadians will finally get to see … how we start with fossil fuels, the fossil fuels produce the plastics, and then how plastics are manufactured … then finally how it translates into all the plastics waste that we as consumers, as Canadians deal with.”

The requirements will be introduced in phases, starting in 2025 and continuing through 2027, with exemptions for small producers that place less than one tonne.

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Khan said she is hopeful the registry model will be adopted by other countries at this week’s meeting.

Christa Seaman, vice-president of Chemistry Industry Association of Canada’s plastics division, which represents plastic companies, welcomed the announcement and will be looking for more specific guidelines going forward.

“We really do support the collection of information and data,” Seaman said in an interview.

“It will help not only identify where there is going to be a need to facilitate a broader understanding of what potential sources of plastic pollution are, and it will help us create the policies needed to close those gaps.”

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