Plastics in a circular economy: Canadian and global updates

In Oslo on October 23, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme  published the first annual Progress Report on the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment .  Part 1 provides a high-level overview of the Global Commitment and its achievements; Part 2 profiles of the programs reported by some of the 400 businesses, organizations and governments which have signed on to the Global Commitment since it launched in 2018. An overview of the Global Commitment, including a list of all participants, is here .  The Progress Report states that  the aim of  the Global Commitment is to: “eliminate the plastic items we don’t need; innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.” This first progress report sets a benchmark against which progress can be measured, and clearly calls for an increase in the ambition level, particularly to go beyond recycling, to encourage elimination and reuse.   The Press release and summary is here .

Recent actions to reduce Plastic waste in Canada:

The Canadian government is not a signatory to the Global Commitment, although at least one Canadian organization, Sustainable Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa, is a signatory, and  the global  Progress Report  provide other examples of  initiatives by Canadian businesses and the provincial government of British Columbia.

Plastic waste is a high-profile policy issue for Canadians, though nearly 90% of plastic waste in Canada is not recycled, according to the  Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Market and Waste,  commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada and released in June 2019.

plastic water bottles In October 2019, Greenpeace Canada conducted an audit of 13,822 pieces of plastic waste collected in volunteer shoreline clean-ups and  identified the top five plastic polluters  in Canada as Nestlé, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca-Cola. CBC summarized the findings and the wider issue of plastic pollution in “Nestlé, Tim Hortons named Canada’s top plastic polluters again”.

Recent Actions on Plastic Waste:

On October 31, the government of Nova Scotia passed Bill 152, the Plastic Bags Reduction Act , which also addresses other single-use plastics.  This follows plastic bag bans by Prince Edward Island and some municipalities.

The government of British Columbia issued a  Plastics Action Plan Consultation Paper which discussed four options for regulatory amendments, including single-use bans and extended producer responsibility. The  consultation process was extended to September 30, with amendments to the regulations promised by the end of 2019.

In Ontario, where waste management has played an outsized role in the Conservative government’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan , an August 2019 government press release announced next steps for recycling and plastic waste management.  The government had appointed a Special Advisor on Recycling and Plastic Waste, who released recommendations in his report Renewing the Blue Box: Final report on the blue box mediation process . The report calls for a transfer of responsibility for the consumer stream Blue Box program to a new producer responsibility system across the province by December 31, 2025. These concluding remarks typify the business approach of the exercise:

 “Investment in research and innovation to create the jobs from the recycled materials should be an interministerial responsibility. Garbage and recycling are not just an environmental issue – they are also economic opportunities…. … More than 99 percent of the plastics collected by the city of Toronto are sold to recyclers right here in Ontario, going to facilities in Shelbourne, Sarnia, and Toronto. Steel and glass collected by Toronto’s recycling programs are processed in Hamilton and Guelph, respectively. This is a prime example of recycling creating jobs and adding value to Ontario’s economy.”

Earlier actions:

The federal-provincial body, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), approved the Phase 1 statement of  a Canada-Wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste in June 2019.  Phase 1 focuses on product design, single-use plastics, collection systems, recycling capacity and domestic markets. The Council promises to release Phase 2 of the Action Plan in 2020, focusing on preventing plastic pollution in oceans, inland lakes and waterways, advancing science to monitor the impacts of plastics pollution within the environment, consumer awareness, clean-up and global action.

Also in June 2019,  the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development released The Last Straw: Turning the Tide on Plastic Pollution in Canada,  the result of a consultation  which received nine briefs and testimony from 41 witnesses (some of which were environmental groups, and none of which were labour unions). The Last Straw made  21 recommendations , calling on the federal government to take the lead on developing standards for plastic products made or sold in Canada, as well as on  a national model recycling system and an extended producer responsibility framework for plastics.  Other recommendations:  Canada should establish a more ambitious goal of reaching zero plastic waste by 2030;  commit to banning harmful single-use plastic products – specifically  straws, bags, cutlery, cups, cigarette filters and polystyrene packaging.

CUPE LOGOAt the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  National Convention in Montreal in October, one of the environmental resolutions approved by delegates was a call for a ban on single-use plastics , according to Notes from the Floor . (Online access to the Resolutions is restricted to CUPE members) .

CUPW logos joint-statement_enIn April 2019, the Association of Postal Officials of Canada, the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and the Union of Postal Communications Employees  reached a formal agreement   with Canada Post to collaborate to reduce Canada Post’s environmental footprint. The initial focus of activities will be towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and single-use disposable plastics from Canada Post operations. In early 2020, the parties will publish an action plan for 2020-2022 , with agreed- upon targets for 2020-2030.

Canada’s  Circular Economy Leadership Council published a Policy Brief in the winter 2019  – with recommendations for government action. The Council includes advocacy groups such as IISD and the National Zero Waste Council, as well as corporations including Unilever, Walmart, Canadian Tire, and IKEA.

vision for plasticsIn February 2019, the Sustainable Prosperity Institute released A Vision for a Circular Economy for Plastics in Canada: The Benefits of Plastics Without the Waste and How We Get it Right.

Canada’s new plastics initiatives and their impacts on jobs and emissions

turtle with bagAs widely reported, Canada announced plans on June 10 to enact a ban on single-use plastics starting in 2021.  No list of specific products was released,  but the Government Backgrounder  suggests shopping bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks will be included, and states that the full list of  “harmful products” will be identified through a “science-based approach” .  Although most news reports zeroed in on the “banning plastic straws” angle, the initiative covers much more, as set out in the government’s Backgrounder:

  1. Ensuring that companies that manufacture plastic products or sell items with plastic packaging are responsible for managing the collection and recycling of their plastic waste
  2. Working with industry to prevent and retrieve abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear, known as ghost fishing gear – a major contributor to marine plastic debris
  3. Investing in new Canadian technologies (through Innovation Challenges)
  4. Mobilizing international support to address plastic pollution (continuing the work of the international Oceans Plastics Charter launched in 2018 at the G7 Summit)
  5. Reducing plastic waste from federal operations (strengthening government procurement policies and a plastics diversion goal of 75 per cent of plastic waste from federal operations by 2030)
  6. Reducing plastic microbeads in freshwater marine ecosystems (a ban on the manufacture or import of cosmetics with microbeads takes effect July 1 2019)
  7. Launching Canada’s Plastics Science Agenda

What are the Job Impacts of the Plastics Ban?  Consultants Deloitte and ChemInfo   prepared an Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste  (2018), commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The report  valued the plastics-manufacturing industry in Canada at $35 billion in 2017 and estimated that it supported approximately 93,000 jobs – compared to the recycling industry, which they valued at $350 million, with employment of about 500). According to the National Observer, in “Bottle makers could pay under federal plastics plan”, the federal government claims that the combination of its proposed actions will create approximately 42,000 jobs, reduce 1.8 million tonnes of carbon pollution and “generate billions of dollars in revenue.”  The CBC quotes the executive vice-president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, who says that the proposed ban “likely won’t affect billions of dollars in new petrochemical projects coming on stream in Alberta and Ontario”, and cites examples: “in  Alberta, Inter Pipeline Ltd. and Pembina Pipeline Ltd. are building polypropylene projects to turn propane into plastic at a cost of $3.5 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively. Nova Chemicals Corp. in Ontario is in the midst of a $2 billion expansion of its Sarnia polyethylene plant.”  Nevertheless, as stated in The Energy Mix, “Fossils See Circular Economy, Backlash Against Plastics Cutting Demand For Oil And Gas”, which summarizes some of the news from  the Global Plastics Summit in Houston in June, and Inside Climate News reports on  “What’s worrying the plastics industry?” .

Plastic-and-Climate-FINAL-GHG Impacts of Plastic:  Ultimately, reducing single use plastics is about more than marine litter and recycling challenges.  The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet  (May 2019)  calculates the climate costs through the life cycle of extraction and transport of fossil fuels; refining and manufacturing; managing waste; and plastic pollution in the environment. It concludes that in 2019, producing and incinerating plastic will emit an estimated 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of 189 coal-fired power plants.  If production continues at the same pace, plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions will reach 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030 (equivalent to 295 coal plants) and  2.8 gigatons per year by 2050 ( equivalent to 615 coal plants).  The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet was produced by the Center for International Environmental Law, the Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 5Gyres, and #BreakFreeFromPlastic; it is summarized by Environmental Health News in “From making it to managing it, plastic is a major contributor to climate change”  (May 15) .

Discussion of Waste Management and Extender Producer Responsibility has been an active issue in Canada, described in “Extended Producer Responsibility reduces waste and impacts the workplace” (2018) in the WCR, which includes highlights of the Ecofiscal Commission report, Cutting the Waste .  In the summer of 2018, environmental groups and labour unions sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Environment and Climate Change –  Towards a Zero Plastic Waste Canada , including detailed demands for a national waste reduction strategy by 2025.  The Ford government in Ontario published Ontario’s Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy  in March 2019 and conducted a public consultation built around a discussion paper, Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities .   Most recently, the Globe and Mail published a detailed national summary in  “Reduce, reuse, recycle: why Canada’s recyling industry is in crisis mode” (May 14) . The  New Democratic Party’s  platform document,  Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs was released on May 31 and includes a call for a national ban on single use plastic by 2022, as well as extended producer responsibility.

 

Extended Producer Responsibility reduces waste and impacts the workplace

Cutting the wasteThe October 16  report from the Ecofiscal Commission ,  Cutting the Waste: How to save money while improving our solid waste systems  is a thorough examination of the issue of waste management in Canada, and while it discusses consumer behaviour (including single use plastics, briefly), the main focus is on municipal programs of disposal pricing ( tipping fees and  “pay as you throw”)  and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs shift the costs and responsibility for waste management from taxpayers and consumers to manufacturers.  Cutting the Waste  recommends expanding and harmonizing Canada’s EPR programs, stating…. “ “extended producer responsibility” programs … can improve the efficiency of recycling programs while also creating incentives to produce goods that generate less waste or goods that can more easily be recycled.”  The report provides a good overview of the history, structure, and efficiency of EPR programs in Canada, stating that there are over 120 such programs (both voluntary and legislated) in Canada, following an EPR Action Plan which was  developed through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in 2009. Their most recent progress report on the Action Plan was conducted in 2014 .  The Ecofiscal Commission highlights British Columbia as having the most stringent and comprehensive plan, and states, “Alberta is the only province that does not have legislated extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs and is falling behind in its commitments under the Canada-wide Action Plan for EPR.”  EPR Canada , a non-profit association, also publishes Report Cards – their most recent was released in 2017.

How does waste management translate into a greener workplace?  The automobile manufacturing industry provides a Canadian example, and in its 2011 Fact Sheet  “Taking Back our Jobs – Taking Back our Environment “ , the Canadian Auto Workers endorsed EPR, with concise arguments,  stating “The future job creation potential is enormous. The motor vehicle industry is one of the best examples of EPR job creation.”   (The Fact Sheet was republished by Unifor in 2013,  here).  From the company, the GM Landfill-free Blueprint (2018) makes a business case for reducing waste and includes the concept of employee engagement.

In September 2018 , one of  Canada’s Clean50 awards for 2019 went to the General Motors Assembly plant in Oshawa Ontario for its “zero waste to landfill” project   .  The announcement states:   “At the core of the success of General Motors Landfill-Free Project at GM Oshawa Assembly Plant initiative lies the fact that the “team” for this project numbers approximately 3,000.  …. it was the employees at the plant who were directly and indirectly part of the successful implementation of their project.”

According to a GM press ( February 2018) ,GM is now diverting 100 per cent waste from landfills at all Canadian manufacturing facilities;  St. Catharines Propulsion facility since 2008,  and CAMI Assembly since 2014.  The St. Catharines facility is also the proposed site of  Ontario’s first complete renewable landfill gas industrial co-generation system, which will use landfill gas from an offsite source, delivered via pipeline, to generate electricity and  reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the plant by more than 77 per cent. More details are here .  A caveat: although this project was projected to come online in mid-2019, it  was initiated under the previous Liberal government,  funded by cap and trade revenues through GreenON Industries, which is one of the programs cancelled by the current Conservative government.

Job Creation Benefits of Ontario’s Proposed Waste Management Strategy

On June 5, the new Liberal government in Ontario proposed a new waste management strategy, launched with a public consultation period that runs from June 6 to September 4. Among the highlights: a proposed Waste Reduction Act which makes individual producers responsible for the end-of-life management of their products and packaging; creation of the Waste Reduction Authority to oversee activities and enforce compliance; phase-in of individual producer responsibility for paper and packaging supplied into the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional sectors; expanded use of disposal bans to encourage recycling. The government press release emphasizes the job creation advantages of waste reduction, stating that “Recycling generates ten times more jobs than disposal”, and “Every additional 1,000 tonnes of recycled waste generates seven new jobs.” These estimates are drawn from The Economic Benefits of Recycling in Ontario, a report prepared for the Ministry of the Environment by consulting group AECOM in 2009, but not publicly released.

LINKS

Waste Reduction Strategy notice in the Environmental Register is at:http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTE5NzM1&statusId=MTc5MTM2&language=en; Waste Management Strategy Document is at: http://www.downloads.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/er/documents/2013/011-9262.pdf;

Text and debates concerning Bill 91, the proposed Waste Reduction Act, 2013 are at: http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=2818