Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced June 10 that his government will seek to ban "harmful" single-use plastics in the country by 2021 and make companies responsible for handling the waste from their plastic packaging or products.
Details of the plan have to worked out. But in a news release and video announcement, Trudeau said the ban could take effect "as early as 2021," and could include big changes in what plastics companies will be asked to do to collect and control waste from their products in the marketplace.
"Companies that manufacture plastic products or sell items with plastic packaging will be responsible for the collection and recycling of their plastic waste," Trudeau said. "Whether we're talking about plastic bottles or cell phones, it will be up to businesses to take responsibility for the plastics they're manufacturing coming out into the world."
The federal government will work with Canada's provinces, territories and industry to develop "consistent standards for extended producer responsibility programs across Canada," he said.
Trudeau said decisions on which products to ban would be "grounded in scientific evidence" and could mirror actions taken by the European Union in its plastics strategy, along with other governments.
A news release said it could include plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates and stir sticks.
Canada's plastics industry said it shared the government's concern about mismanaged waste and noted industry efforts like the US$1.5 billion Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
But the industry also urged Trudeau and other policymakers not to prejudge the outcomes and to consider the full lifecycle impact of both plastics and alternatives.
A joint statement from the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Chemical Industry Association of Canada said they "welcome the plans for producer-led extended producer responsibility initiatives" to harmonize collection and help build markets for recycled plastics.
"Plastics are key to our modern and sustainable way of life, but they do not belong in the environment. We understand the urgency of the problem and are committed to being part of the solution," said Carol Hochu, president and CEO of CPIA.
The associations cautioned, however, that government policies that don't consider full life cycle impacts could have "serious implications on industry's ability to create a circular economy for plastics that supports a national zero plastics waste strategy."
They said they believed that "creating the impression that safe, sanitary plastic materials" are toxic would ultimately make it more difficult to achieve zero waste goals.
Trudeau described the issue in highly personal terms, beginning his four-minute address by talking about challenges trying to explain plastics in the environment to his three children, who are all under age 12.
"To be honest, as a dad it's tough trying to explain this to my kids," he said. "How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches around the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags. Or albatross chicks photographed off the coast of Hawaii, their bodies filled to the brim with plastic they've mistaken for food."
Trudeau said plastics have been found in the deepest points of the Pacific Ocean, at a depth of 36,000 feet, and are showing up in people.
"How do I broach the fact that plastic is finding its way into our bodies too, as we ingest tens of thousands of microplastic particles each year," Trudeau said. "Making sense of this new reality for my kids isn't a struggle I face alone. People around the world are grappling with this every day."
In the news release, the Canadian government said that less than 10 percent of plastic in the country gets recycled now, and that the country throws away 3 million metric tons of plastic a year.
Without a change in direction, the country will throw away an estimated C$11 billion (US$8.3 billion) worth of plastic materials annually by 2030, up from C$8 billion (US$6 billion) now.
Trudeau said his approach could lead to economic growth. He said collecting and recycling more, and investing in innovation, would create 42,000 jobs and reduce 1.8 million metric tons of carbon pollution.
In his comments, he singled out Nova Scotia-based polypropylene packaging film producer Copol International Ltd., which was one of six plastics firms to receive Canadian government funding to pursue innovations in dealing with plastic waste.
"Copol International is a forward-thinking business that's developing biodegradable food packaging," Trudeau said. "They have their eyes to the future and we're proud to support their work."
He said his government wants to both pursue policy solutions and support business efforts to develop new materials.
"We've worked with provinces and territories to develop the strategy on zero plastic waste and we're also working closely with the private sector, investing in Canadian businesses that are developing innovative solutions to reduce plastic waste," he said.
A May news release from the Canadian government said each of the six companies will receive up to C$150,000 (US$113,000) to support initial research and can compete for up to a C$1 million (US$754,000) grant in the second phase to develop a prototype.
It said the government has dedicated more than C$10 million (US$7.5 million) to support made-in-Canada innovations to tackle plastics pollution.