Moving towards Zero Waste Plastic: Remaining Questions & Answers

On April 18, 2023 PPG was joined by Megan Hamilton, Head of the Regulatory Cooperation and Implementation Unit within the Plastics Regulatory Affairs Division at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). A recording of the session can be found here.

Below is a list of additional questions that were asked by the audience.

1. Has there been an outcome or resolution on the recent court case with the plastics industry and ECCC?

The Government has listened to Canadians who have asked that concrete action be taken to prevent single-use plastics polluting our lakes, rivers, oceans, and parks. The Government’s action is based on science, and we are confident that the courts will make the right decision.

The Government will continue to make science and evidence-based decisions and the science shows very clearly that plastic pollution is harming our environment and we need to act.

We are confident that the courts will uphold the listing of plastic manufactured items to Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as well as the ban on harmful single-use plastics.

The Notices of Application do not stop the Government from advancing its zero plastic waste objective, and Environment and Climate Change Canada remains committed to implementing its comprehensive agenda to keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment.

2. What actions can/are be taken to deal with the fact that dealing with plastic is so economically costly and negative in value in terms of recycling? Are biodegradable / compostable plastics for packaging a current solution to be investigated or funded further? Or do we just need to wait until the economics of recycling become feasible? As a side note, I am very pleased with the current single-use plastic restrictions but I don’t think restrictions like these can be applied to all packaging as, for example, the majority of food goods at grocery stores are packaged with plastic, which is very depressing.

Our Government is committed to strengthening recyclability and compostability for plastics and to improving the performance of recycling systems in Canada, more generally. New labelling rules would prohibit the use of the chasing-arrows symbol and other recyclability claims on plastic products unless at least 80 percent of Canadians have access to recycling systems that accept and have reliable end markets for these products. Accurate labelling rules would incentivize producers to re-design their packaging to be more recyclable or compostable, while giving Canadians better information about whether plastic packaging or single-use plastic products should be put in a recycling bin, a composting bin, or the garbage. This would reduce contamination in recycling and organic waste streams, improving the quality and quantity of plastics that actually get recycled or composted, and supporting Canada’s transition to a circular economy.

3. Presumably the remainder after subtracting upstream less the downstream data points = leakage into the environment?

We do not believe this to be correct. Plastics placed on the market in certain products (such as automobiles, lamps, clothing) would not appear in the downstream data until several years after they are sold. Items that are reused, like containers, also do not appear in downstream data in a predictable manner. When items that are long-lasting, reused or sold on to secondary markets are in use they do not contribute towards the total of plastics leaked into the environment, and also may not appear in the downstream data.

4. What is Ontario doing to increase its flexible plastic recovery rate?

We encourage you to follow up with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks of the Government of Ontario so that they could answer you directly.

The Government of Canada works with provincial and territorial governments through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to improve Canada’s record on reducing and recycling waste. Together we developed a Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste, and are implementing two associated Canada-wide Action Plans to prioritize action that will reduce plastic waste. As part of this work, we, along with our provincial and territorial counterparts at the CCME, published A Roadmap to Strengthen the Management of Single-Use and Disposable Plastics, as well as Guidance to Facilitate Consistent Extended Producer Responsibility Policies and Programs for Plastics. ECCC is using this latter document to inform the development of the Federal Plastics Registry.

5. What do you think the outcome on the value chain will be as a result of the changes that are to happen now and in the future? How much will the needle change on the % recycled?

The outcome of the value chain as a result of the changes that are to happen now and, in the future, as well as changes on the percent recycled will be discussed in detail in the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement which will be published by the end of 2023 in the Canada Gazette, Part I. Please note that the proposed recycled content and recyclability labelling regulations described in the regulatory framework paper work together to have a combined impact that drives necessary systems change. Each measure acts at different points in the recycling stream, enhance each other to drive systems change:

  • Recycled content strengthens demand and market certainty for recycled plastic
    • This creates market pressures to improve performance of recycling systems, invest in infrastructure and innovation
  • Labelling improves quality of supply to recycling stream
    • It facilitates consumer choice and engagement with the recycling system
    • Reduces contamination and incentivizes packaging re-design

6. Will the recycled content mandates base on mass balance OR each individual package has to contain a certain percentage of recycled content?

Any company subject to the regulations would need to use a specified minimum amount of recycled content within each broad packaging category (rigid or flexible). The amount required would be based on the amount of plastic used in, and percentage targets for, each product category (for example, beverage bottles) and would have to be calculated by each company on an annual basis according to a formula shown in section 4.4.1 of the framework paper. For example, a company could potentially dedicate less recycled content in beverage bottles and more in other rigid packaging categories, as long as they meet the mass requirement for the rigid packaging category. Therefore, each individual package does not need to contain a certain percentage of recycled content. 

7. GHG emission for SUPs vs MUPs?

As part of the regulatory development process, the Government of Canada conducted a strategic environmental assessment, which reviewed the available evidence on the Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations’ potential environmental effects, including a review of available life cycle assessments for substitutes to the six categories of single-use plastics. As described in the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement that was published with these Regulations, the federal government also took note of existing guidance developed by the United Nations Environment Program and other organizations that advised that life cycle assessments suffer from a number of shortcomings that limit their usefulness in making conclusions about environmental effects. These shortcomings include inconsistencies in parameter setting, methodologies, data sources and the lack of quantitative analysis relating to downstream effects of litter. After reviewing the available evidence and considering mitigation and enhancement measures, the Government concluded that any negative environmental effects from the Regulations would not be significant, while the positive effects, in particular in terms of reducing plastic pollution and preventing harm to wildlife, would be significant.

8. In the very long run, isn’t compostable plastic in landfills still better than long-term persistent plastics?

The Government’s 2020 Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution found a significant lack of evidence that non-conventional plastics, including compostable plastics, will fully degrade in natural environments ( It further notes that very little non-conventional plastic is managed through industrial composting facilities, that difficulties distinguishing compostable from non-compostable plastics create contamination problems for processors, and that many composting facilities in Canada do not accept certified compostable plastics. In organic waste streams, when applied to land, have the potential to contribute to the release of microplastics in the environment. In landfill, biodegradable plastics may generate methane emissions.

9. When the sale of six categories items banned, make municipalities to be vigilant for strong enforcement, $500-1000 fines initial for those stores/ retails not comply with the regulations. Make fines $25,000 on third offence.

The Regulations are made under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), so Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers will, when verifying compliance with the Regulations, act in accordance with the Compliance and Enforcement Policy for CEPA, 1999.

Verification of compliance with the Regulations could include site visits, review of records, product testing (if applicable), and review of written transit documents. Following an inspection or an investigation, if an enforcement officer discovers an alleged violation, the officer will choose the appropriate enforcement action based on the following factors, as outlined in the Compliance and Enforcement Policy for CEPA, 1999:

§  Nature of the alleged violation: This includes consideration of the damage, the intent of the alleged violator, whether it is a repeat violation, and whether an attempt has been made to conceal information or otherwise subvert the objectives and requirements of CEPA;

§  Effectiveness in achieving the desired result with the alleged violator: The desired result is compliance within the shortest possible time and with no further repetition of the violation. Factors to be considered include the violator’s history of compliance with CEPA, willingness to cooperate with enforcement officers, and evidence of corrective action already taken; and

§  Consistency: Enforcement officers will consider how similar situations have been handled in determining the measures to be taken to enforce CEPA.

The federal Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations apply across Canada and provide a level playing field. Federal prohibitions can prevent items from entering and exiting Canada’s borders, which is important since the prohibited items can cause plastic pollution, which is a global issue. Municipalities may enact their own requirements around single-use plastics.

10. Sorry I was late but will single use takeout plastics be limited?  If not what of the black plastic that is not recyclable in all recycling programs?

Yes, the Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations prohibit foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics. This includes black plastic made with carbon black.

The Regulations (Section 1) define single-use plastic (SUP) foodservice ware as a plastic manufactured item, made entirely or in part from plastic, that:

  • is formed in the shape of a clamshell container, lidded container, box, cup, plate or bowl
  • is designed for serving or transporting food or beverage that is ready to be consumed, and
  • contains expanded polystyrene foam, extruded polystyrene foam, polyvinyl chloride, a plastic that contains a black pigment produced through the partial or incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons or an oxo-degradable plastic

SUP foodservice ware prohibited by the Regulations includes any plastic manufactured item that meets all 3 of the criteria above (a, b and c). These are items that have typically been given to customers at restaurants, food vendors and grocery stores to hold a variety of food and beverages for takeout or to-go meals.

11. Black plastics are recyclable- only City of Toronto’s sorting center doesn’t capture them because they use optical sorters that cannot detect carbon black. Most other MRFs/Sorting centres in ON/Canada that don’t use optical sorters capture black plastics and if its PP or PE, can be recycled.

The Government’s analysis, as well as comments received from provinces, municipalities and recyclers during the public comment period on the proposed Regulations, supported banning foodservice ware made with carbon black.