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.

 

G7 Summit makes some progress on Just Transition, plastics pollution – but not on fossil fuel subsidies

G7 leaders 2018With the chaos emanating from Donald Trump’s performance at the G7 Summit   hosted by Canada on June 8 and 9,  it would be easy to miss the news about one of the five Summit themes :  Working Together on Climate Change, Oceans, and Clean Energy  . But according to a brief statement by Canada’s Climate Action Network,  G7 Stands it Ground : “The G7 should be congratulated for publicly acknowledging for the first time the need for a just transition…..Canada showed leadership by stickhandling this climate outcome as the G7 host. ”

In contrast to the Final Communique of 2017, which contained only one paragraph on climate change,  the 2018 Official Communique   includes four lengthly paragraphs (#23 – 27,  including #26 which is the independent statement of the United States).   Included:  “Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union reaffirm their strong commitment to implement the Paris Agreement, through ambitious climate action; in particular through reducing emissions while stimulating innovation, enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening and financing resilience and reducing vulnerability; as well as ensuring a just transition, including increasing efforts to mobilize climate finance from a wide variety of sources. ….  Also, Recognizing that healthy oceans and seas directly support the livelihoods, food security and economic prosperity of billions of people, …. We endorse the Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities, and will improve oceans knowledge, promote sustainable oceans and fisheries, support resilient coasts and coastal communities and address ocean plastic waste and marine litter. Recognizing that plastics play an important role in our economy and daily lives but that the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics and poses a significant threat to the marine environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health, we the Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union endorse the Ocean Plastics Charter.”

Background: As usual, several reports and position statements were released in advance of the international meetings.  The Climate and Energy Working Group of the G7 Global Task Force, (a broad coalition of over 40 civil society organisations) released  their  Recommendations  on a full range of climate change issues, and a separate Brief titled It’s Time for G7 countries to commit to Just Transition , which concluding with this: “Canada, as President of the G7, and building on the work of the Task Force on the Just Transition for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities has the opportunity to elevate this discussion, and promote mainstreaming of just transition principles across all G7 priorities and discussions for the upcoming years.”

Other position statements:  The Global Investor statement to G7 leaders, signed by 319 investors representing more than USD $28 trillion in assets , and a Statement from the We Mean Business Coalition  .  Both business-oriented groups affirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement and made recommendations.

g7 fossil fuel scorecard infographics_canadaAlso, from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Oil Change International (OCI), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) : the G7 Fossil Fuel Subsidy Report Card , released on June 4 . It states that  G7 governments continue to provide at least $100 billion in subsidies to the production and use of coal, oil and gas, and ranks the G7 countries according to seven indicators: transparency; pledges and commitments; ending support for coal mining; ending support for exploration; ending support for oil and gas production; ending support for fossil fuel-based power; and ending support for fossil fuel use.  Using these categories,  Canada ranked 3rd out of the G7 countries overall, after France (1st) and Germany (2nd), followed by U.K., Italy, Japan, and the U.S. (7th).  This, against the backdrop of an Ekos Research  public opinion poll from March 2018 that shows Canadians want an end to fossil fuel subsidies in virtually every part of the country and across gender, age, region, education, and income. For a new discussion of the issue and the Scorecard report, see “Canada leads G7 in oil and gas subsidies” in The Narwhal.

The National Observer coverage of the entire G7 Summit is here, with a focus on the trade dispute, but including “G7 still negotiating as clock runs down on climate commitments and “McKenna praises IKEA move to ban single-use plastics by 2020” , which discusses the broader issue.

Reactions :  A compilation of reactions appears in “G7 Leaders isolate Trump on Climate” in The Energy Mix, and CAN-RAC  released a position paper in response  Shaping the Future: A new vision for civil society and the G7 .   Environmentalists, including Greenpeace,  called the Plastics Charter inadequate because it is voluntary,and focuses on recycling and repurposing, rather than reduction or an outright ban on single-use plastics.  The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) released a statement of support of the Ocean Plastics Charter on June 10 , also stating that its members: ” had committed to goals of 100 per cent of plastics packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and 100 per cent of plastics packaging being reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040.”

 

 

 

Reports from Davos: Climate Change, Circular Economy, Ethical Supply Chains

The annual  World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brings together the corporate and political elites  – this year’s theme from January 20 – 23rd is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Yet climate change ranks high on the agenda and several reports relevant to climate change and labour have been released. Notably, the Global Challenge Initiative on Environment and Natural Resource Security project  produced The Global Risks Report 2016  , which ranks global risks, in terms of likelihood as : 1. Large-scale Involuntary migration; 2. Extreme weather events   3. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A project about the Circular Economy released a report commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and conducted by McKinsey & Company: The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of Plastics . ( press release here ). The new report addresses the problems identified in a 2014 report from the UNEP Plastics Disclosure Project, Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry , which projected that, “ in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget. ”

Regarding supply chains, a report by an Accenture consulting firm, Beyond Supply Chain: Empowering Responsible Value Chains   discusses the “triple advantage” of ethical supply chains which include environmental goals. The Accenture report paints a favourable picture of corporate behaviour, in contrast to Scandal: Inside the Global Supply Chains of 50 Top Global Companies, a hard-hitting report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC focuses mainly on working conditions and wages, as well as health and safety of workers. Bringing it all together and released in advance of Davos, research from the University of Sheffield concludes that “ Audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains. They reinforce existing business models and preserve the global production status quo…. The growth of the audit regime is carving out an ever greater role for corporations in global corporate governance and enforcing an ever smaller role for states.”  A summary of the Sheffield research appeared in The Guardian  on January 14; the full report is Ethical Audits and Supply Chains of Global Corporations  (registration required to download). A related article, focusing on the coffee industry, appeared in The Conversation (December 1): “Why corporate sustainability won’t solve climate change ” .