A look at Canada’s ban on single-use plastics (updated).

Earlier this week the Government of Canada announced a ban on some single-use plastics that will be phased in over the next 18 months. The Regulations prohibit the manufacture, import, sale, and eventually export of six categories of single-use plastics, including:

  • Single-use checkout bags,
  • Cutlery,
  • Foodservice containers made from (or containing) hard-to-recycle plastics,
  • Ring carriers,
  • Stir sticks, and
  • Straws.

Full Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations will be published today in the Canada Gazette. Under the Regulations, companies will be banned from importing or manufacturing these items (excluding ring carriers) from between December 17-31 of this year, from selling them by the end of next year, and from exporting them by the end of 2025.

The phased-in approach is designed to offer businesses in Canada time to transition and deplete existing stocks. Prohibitions related to the manufacture and import of ring carriers and flexible straws packaged with juice boxes (and similar items) are delayed until June 2023, offering manufacturers time to retool their operations; prohibition on sale of these items will come into force on June 22, 2024.

In the case of single-use flexible plastic straws, an exception will exist for people in Canada who use them for medical and accessibility reasons at home, in hospitals or long-term care facilities, or social settings. The sale of these items will be restricted as of December 2023; all other types of single-use plastic straws will be prohibited outright.

As per the Canadian government’s website:

This approach seeks to transition Canada away from a linear economy, that disposes of plastic as waste, towards a circular economy that keeps plastic in the economy and out of the environment through activities such as better product design and higher rates of reuse, repair, remanufacture, refurbishment, and recycling.

Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations – Guidance for selecting alternatives

Federal data has shown that 15.5 billion plastic grocery bags, 4.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, three billion stir sticks, 5.8 billion straws, 183 million six-pack rings, and 805 million takeout containers were sold in Canada in 2019. However, a Deloitte study from the same year found that less than one tenth of Canada’s plastic waste is recycled, with 3.3 million tonnes ending up in landfill – and almost half of that was plastic packaging.

The regulations are in line with the Liberal government’s move to a circular economy and plan for Zero Plastic Waste by 2030. A number of Canadian provinces and municipalities have already implemented bans on plastic checkout bags, and last year municipalities in British Columbia began developing bylaws banning a variety of single-use plastics.

Canada is not the first country to take this type of action on single-use plastics. The United Kingdom implemented a tax on plastic bags in 2015, banned the sale of products containing microbeads in 2018, and a ban on the supply of plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds came into force in 2020. Kenya banned single-use plastic bags in 2017 and prohibits visitors from taking single-use plastics (i.e., water bottles and disposable plates) into national parks, forests, beaches, and conservation areas. The European Union implemented a ban on numerous single-use plastics last year. And U.S. states including New York, California, and Hawaii have already banned single-use plastic bags.

Reaction has been mixed from various Canadian industry and environment groups. As per Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada’s Head of Oceans & Plastics campaign:

The release of the regulations is a critical step forward, but we still aren’t even at the starting line. The OECD projects Canada to nearly double its 2019 plastic use by 2060 — and the world’s to nearly triple — and this ban is estimated to only cover less than 5 per cent of Canada’s 2019 total plastic waste generated.

Greenpeace Canada

Restaurants Canada voiced its concern about the implications on an industry that is still recovering from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Single-use items pose a unique challenge for foodservice operators, as Canadians are increasingly turning to delivery and takeout. While on-premise dining still accounts for most foodservice sales nationwide, on-premise sales have been losing market share to takeout and delivery orders… In removing single-use plastics from the market without enough affordable and sustainable replacement options in place, the industry will take on an estimated 125% increase in costs. This does not account for the costs associated with the increased demand for such products resulting in supply shortages. 

Restaurants Canada

Other industry associations have also weighed in, with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters expressing concern that the ban will “punish Canadian manufacturers and suppliers”, and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada suggesting that “Rather than bans, we need to invest in recycling infrastructure and innovation, including infrastructure to manage compostables, to harness the $8 billion value of plastics that are currently sent to landfill and recirculate them in the economy.”

We will be posting news on these bans as implementation timelines approach, so watch this blog – and our Twitter and LinkedIn feeds – for updates.

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