Gov’t look­ing to re­duce plas­tic waste leav­ing coun­try

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Mia RABSON

OTTAWA — En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna says she has asked her depart­ment to look at what else Canada can do to re­duce the amount of Cana­dian garbage that is end­ing up over­seas.

As re­cently as Aug. 1, McKenna’s of­fi­cials dis­missed the idea of ban­ning plas­tic waste ex­ports en­tirely, fearing such a move could be eco­nom­i­cally harm­ful to coun­tries with re­cy­cling in­dus­tries that rely on the ma­te­rial.

Canada pointed to Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Ja­pan as coun­tries with sim­i­lar poli­cies.

But last week, Aus­tralia’s fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments came to­gether to start plan­ning for an even­tual ban of plas­tic waste ex­ports.

McKenna says Canada has al­ready taken steps to cut down on plas­tic waste, in­clud­ing a planned ban on most sin­gle-use plas­tics like straws and take-out con­tain­ers within the next two years, and re­quir­ing pro­duc­ers to take more re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­sur­ing the ma­te­rial is re­cov­ered and ei­ther re­cy­cled or reused.

She says there is also room for Canada to show lead­er­ship on ex­ports and is “push­ing” her depart­ment to fig­ure out how.

“We need to look at what more we could do,” she said.

Canada has very limited abil­ity to re­cy­cle plas­tics and has for decades re­lied on for­eign na­tions, mostly China, to take its plas­tic waste. China, how­ever, banned most plas­tic waste im­ports in 2018 be­cause it was get­ting too much ad­di­tional ma­te­rial that couldn’t be re­cy­cled.

As a re­sult, much of the en­su­ing vol­ume has been shifted away from wealthy na­tions to places like In­done­sia, Malaysia and Thai­land, where gov­ern­ments – now fac­ing a del­uge of ma­te­rial both le­gal and il­le­gal – are con­tem­plat­ing bans of their own.

Many waste ex­perts and en­vi­ron­ment ad­vo­cates want Canada to sim­ply stop ex­port­ing plas­tic waste en­tirely.

In 2016, Canada did change its reg­u­la­tions to re­quire per­mits when­ever plas­tic garbage is ex­ported to coun­tries that see it as haz­ardous waste.

That move came af­ter fruit­less ef­forts to sanc­tion a now-de­funct Cana­dian com­pany that shipped more than 100 con­tain­ers full of garbage, falsely la­belled as plas­tics for re­cy­cling, to the Philip­pines – a diplo­matic dustup that ended only af­ter Canada agreed to spend $1.14 mil­lion to ship what was left of the waste back to Van­cou­ver.

That reg­u­la­tory change hasn’t stopped un­wanted Cana­dian plas­tic garbage from ar­riv­ing in for­eign na­tions, how­ever. No per­mits have been re­quested or is­sued since 2016, but in the last few months both Malaysia and Cam­bo­dia have re­ported find­ing con­tain­ers of Cana­dian plas­tic garbage in their ports.

En­vi­ron­ment Canada is in­ves­ti­gat­ing those claims.

Kath­leen Ruff, founder of the on­line ad­vo­cacy cam­paign RightonCan­, wants Canada to agree to stop ship­ping plas­tic waste out of the coun­try.

She has been crit­i­cal of the fed­eral Lib­er­als for re­fus­ing to agree to amend the Basel Con­ven­tion to stop plas­tic waste ex­ports. The con­ven­tion is an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment to pre­vent the world’s wealth­i­est na­tions from dump­ing haz­ardous waste on the de­vel­op­ing world.

Ruff said she was happy to hear McKenna say there was room to do more – and suspects the Oct. 21 fed­eral elec­tion may have some­thing to do with it.

In­deed, the Philip­pines fi­asco prompted a spike in pub­lic in­ter­est in plas­tic trash, prompt­ing all the ma­jor par­ties to put it on the agenda: the Con­ser­va­tives say they would ban any plas­tic waste ex­ports un­less the im­port­ing coun­try can prove it will be re­cy­cled, while the NDP wants to ban ex­ports en­tirely, as well as the pro­duc­tion and use of dis­pos­able plas­tics by 2022.

The Green party, mean­while, would phase out the use of land­fills for un­sorted waste, and im­pose a sys­tem to en­sure all elec­tronic waste is re­cy­cled.

Cana­di­ans are among the big­gest pro­duc­ers of waste in the world, churn­ing out as much as two kilo­grams per per­son ev­ery day.


Plas­tics are gathered for re­cy­cling at a de­pot in North Van­cou­ver in June.

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