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.

 

How transforming global food systems can reduce GHG emissions – in Canada, with a focus on food waste

food guideOn January 15 in Oslo, the prestigious medical journal Lancet launched the results and recommendations of a commission it had established, the EAT-Lancet Commission , composed of   37 experts from 16 countries . Their report, “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems”  analyzes human diet and food production in light of the Paris Agreement, and the fact that food production contributes about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Commission recognizes the enormity of their goals : “humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned in this Commission.”

The Lancet report recommends cutting meat consumption in half, greatly reducing food waste, and replacing resource-intensive farming methods with approaches that require less fertilizer, and replenish the soil. The authors estimate that  wide-spread adoption of plant-based diets could reduce agricultural emissions by up to 80 percent, and changes in food production practices could cut an additional 10 percent in 2050.  Excellent summaries of the article appeared from the American Association for the Advancement of Science  and from  Inside Climate News

One of the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission  is to greatly reduce food waste. Coincidentally, a report released by Second Harvest Canada on January 17 is a thorough and detailed examination of  that issue in Canada. “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste”  states that Canada is one of the most wasteful countries in the world, generating the food waste equivalent to $1,766 per household per year, with an estimated 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada lost or wasted.  Through supply chain analysis, the report estimates that  nearly $21 billion worth occurs during the processing and manufacturing process, and more than $10 billion worth at the consumer level.  The report also estimates the environmental cost of such waste: food in landfills creates methane gas, the equivalent  of  56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.  The report makes dozens of recommendations for industry and government in a 32-page “Roadmap”  for farmers, producers, retailers, restaurant owners, and government .    The Technical report of how calculations were made is here .   A CBC summary is here .  A White paper by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation,  Characterization and Management of Food Waste in North America  concurred with much of Second Harvest’s  analysis when it was published in 2018.

On January 17, eight of Canada’s leading food manufacturers and retailers- (Kraft Heinz Canada, Loblaw Companies Ltd, Maple Leaf Foods, Metro Inc, Save-On-Foods, Sobeys Inc, Unilever Canada and Walmart Canada) – released a statement, committing themselves to cut food waste within their operations by 50% by the end of 2025, from 2016 levels. They will use the globally recognized Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard, which addresses this issue on a global scale.

In Canada, the 2019 Food Guide released on January 22,  is the first update since 2007, and is intended as a consumer guide for a nutritious and healthy diet. To this end, it makes general recommendations about eating less meat and mostly plant-based foods, and has multiple recommendations for behaviour changes, such as “cook more often”, “eat with others”  and “be aware of food marketing”.

 

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.

Clean Technology Employment in Canada – new data from two Statistics Canada releases

Aerial view of the National Wind Technology Center; wind turbines

A December 15 article in Energy Mix reported   “More Canadians working in green jobs than in oil patch”; the National Observer wrote   “ There are nearly 300,000 high-paying clean tech jobs in Canada”.      Both articles  were based on data released by Statistics Canada on December 13 from its new  Environmental and Clean Technology Products Economic Account survey.  Statistics Canada estimates that  274,000 jobs were attributable to environmental and clean technology activity in 2016, accounting for 1.5% of jobs in the Canadian economy.   This represents a growth of 4.5% since 2007 – but at a time when employment in the economy as a whole grew 8.4%.  The good news of the data shows higher than average annual labour compensation per job (including benefits) for environmental and clean technology jobs –  $92,000, compared with an economy-wide average of $59,900.  This is largely because of the inclusion of electricity and waste management – without those two sectors, the average compensation per job was $82,000.

Environmental and Clean Technology Products Economic Account, 2007 to 2016   is a 3-page summary report; full, interactive data is provided in  CANSIM tables , including a separate table for employment .

Smaller employment numbers are reported by the  Survey of Environmental Goods and Services (SEGS), most recently published on December 12, 2017, and providing data from 2015.  Amongst the findings: “Ontario ($600 million) and Quebec ($247 million) businesses exported almost $850 million worth of environmental and clean technology goods and services in 2015. This accounted for 71.7% of all Canadian exports in this sector…..  In 2015, about 11,000 people held environmental and clean technology positions in Ontario, while almost 4,000 people were employed in this sector in Quebec. Waste management services provided jobs for another 15,000 people in Ontario and 7,000 people in Quebec.”  CANSIM Tables for the SEGS are here , including a table showing employment by region of Canada.

How to explain the differences? The Environmental and Clean Technology Products Economic Account includes clean energy, waste management, environmental and clean technology manufacturing industries, and technical services, which gives it  a broader scope than the Survey of Environmental Goods and Services (SEGS), as explained here .