Have you noticed that grocers and retailers have started charging for plastic shopping bags? The going rate seems to be five cents per bag on the retail strip near where I live in Toronto. But I’ve also seen 10 cents per bag.
It seems retailers are getting ahead of the federal government’s single-use plastics ban, parts of which come into force at the end of 2023.
By the end of this year, companies will be banned from importing or making plastic bags and takeout containers, from selling them by the end of next year and banned from exporting them by the end of 2025. In June 2023, ring carriers will be banned for manufacture and sale in Canada with the full ban coming into effect in December 2025. The ban also covers stir sticks and straws, although an exception was made for bending straws, Environment and Climate Change Canada said in its guidelines.
The energy industry is already facing a wave of new regulations this year. After years of discussion, debate and delay, the federal government will finalize a series of measures tied to its target of achieving a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Ottawa’s goal of zero plastics waste by 2030 is another headwind. Most plastics are made from oil and natural gas feedstocks, including naptha, natural gas liquids and liquid petroleum gases. The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada estimates about 10 per cent of total natural gas is used for ethylene and propylene resin production at home “both as a feedstock and as process fuel.”
The reason for the ban is that single-use plastics are a blot on the environment, the government has said. According to federal data, in Canada up to 15 billion plastic bags are used every year and close to 57 million straws are used daily. Further, Canadians throw away over three million tonnes of plastic waste annually, according to the data.
Canadian industry has turned to the courts to fight against the plastics regulations.
The Responsible Plastic Use Coalition (RPUC), comprised of 33 corporations across Canada, including Imperial Oil Ltd., launched two legal actions. It has asked the Federal Court to overrule the ban on plastics. An in-person, three-day judicial review in Ottawa, is scheduled for March 7. RPUC also filed a lawsuit in 2021, requesting that Ottawa’s designation of plastics as “toxic” under the Environmental Protection Act be overturned.
“The federal government designated all plastic manufactured items as toxic, a designation we believe is not only inaccurate but could have far-reaching and unintended consequences. Canadians rely on plastic to sustain everyday life,” the coalition said on its website, noting that plastics are used in consumer items ranging from eyeglasses, diapers, water pipes, computers, phones and baby bottles.
Steven Guilbeault, the minister of environment and climate change, has said he believes that the plastics legislation will withstand the court challenge.
He also said last year it is possible the government could add more items to the banned list, but noted he does not think a broad-based ban on plastics will work and that Ottawa is looking to collaborate with industry.
“Banning certain items is certainly part of the solution but regulating to ensure that companies who produce plastics use more and more recycled plastic as part of your content is also part of the solution,” he was quoted as saying in a CBC News story.
Plastics bans are being implemented around the world. On Jan. 1, 2022, France broadened its ban to include packaging on fruits and vegetables. The United Kingdom is poised to ban single-use cutlery and plates, among other items.
Add plastics to the challenging policy year ahead for the oilpatch.
— Gigi Suhanic