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.