Policy Brief Single Use PlasticsPosted: June 24, 2024

What is the problem

Single Use Plastics is not only a significant threat to humanity, but also a threat to our economy. SIngle use plastics contributes to many diseases, and prevents Canada from becoming a leader in the emerging green economy. If we play our cards right, Canada can become an energy leader that demonstrates that to be green is to be economical and business friendly.

Brief Intro of Solutions

While a more comprehensive list of solutions will be listed at the end, the main ones include:

  1. Phased on single use plastics by 2035 through the creation of Green banks, incentives, and working with existing plans of Green patent, technology credits, etc. Eventually punish businesses who do not adopt these green credits.
  2. While 82% of Canada is on renewable energy, and the prevention of a mass electric revolution in Canada is hampered by the billions given to the oil industry, in the short term, the oil industry can transition to lithium ion production. At the same time, establish a dedicated M
  3. At the same time, establish a dedicated MaRS for climate change and plastic reduction by working with the transitioning industries, providing funding and incentives for various stakeholders (especially the medical industry because they depend on plastics) to develop alternatives to plastic that will allow for a full ban on plastics in 2035. In addition, we can fully transition from oil by using MaRS to spearhead green manufacturing, business, and development within Canada. One example includes developing graphene technology to be used in one commercial scale.
  4. Look to establish a global MaRS facility (or equivalent) for the next century, focusing on green solutions to problems and products in order to create a universal green standard.

Environmental & Health Dangers of Plastics

Problem 1: Extraction via Oil and Toxic Chemicals Emitted

Plastic is inherently bad for the environment because it “begins as crude oil, a non-renewable resource extracted from the earth”. 1Oil is carbon rich and its strands of carbon form polymers (made up of monomers). The chemical symbol for Polyethylene is H2C (two hydrogen and one carbon). It is important to note that every chemical composition of plastics are different. While I will not get into the minutia of plastics, the chemicals that the polymers are mixed in, leak toxins into the environment (Diaz 2018, 87-89). This means that when plastics are dumped from Canada to a country in the Global South such as the Philippines, an excessive amount of toxins are being emitted.

It is important to note that said additives contain massive amounts of carcinogens such as BPA (Diaz 90). Multiple studies show that these substances are linked to cancer, obesity, and other diseases. Since a large amount of our products are plastic such as bags, straws, containers, wrapping, and cutlery, and bottles, we are constantly increasing our risk of disease23.

Problem 2: Ocean Pollution and Our Depleting Oxygen

While Canada is not a participant in plastic dumping in the oceans (because they do it in the Global South instead), Canada has a vested interest in taking action against plastics because of the harms it has to the marine ecosystem and health4.

In regards of the former, micro plastics, for instance (which carry the previously discussed additives may induce photosynthesis, induce oxidative stress in phytoplankton5. Even if further plastic pollution was stopped, the high fragmentation of plastic pollution means that the amount of micro plastics in the environment. Since micro plastics do not bio-degrade and only get smaller, it allows for a greater concentration of plastics 6.

In regards for the latter, we are further increasing our chance of disease and allowing our own oxygen supply to deplete. For example, if marine life consumes micro-plastics, and we then consume it, all the toxic chemicals and carcinogens are transferred into our body (Smith et al 378-379; Circular Economy of Plastics 7). This increases our chances of acquiring disease transferred via plastic. In the case of oxygen supply, if we take the example of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in which a large amount of the Pacific Ocean is covered in plastic pollution, the plastic blocks the sun’s rays from reaching the ocean. This means less photosynthesis conducted by phytoplankton, which translates into less oxygen for humans. As BC is surrounded by the Pacific, Canadians are severely impacted by plastic pollution in the ocean because of the reducing oxygen. Furthermore,it is in Canada’s best action to take action on plastic pollution in the ocean.

Therefore, Canada is facing an environmental and public health crisis that is being caused by plastic pollution.

Legal Mandate for Banning Plastics

As discussed in the UBC Law Review, banning plastics is necessary as it falls under the unwritten constitutional principles (UCP) of Canada. 8 Collins and Sossin argue that the nature of Canadian environmental law has failed to vindicate the scientific consensus that major environmental policy improvements are needed. Moreover, they argue that the UCP of ecological sustainability “is capable of guiding the excercise of administrative discretion toward greater environmental protection…” (Maclean et al 230) They note that Canada’s poor environmental record (i.e. the oil sands) means that we ought to have “enforceable ecological ‘bottom line’” (Maclean et al 230) . As a result of nature literally constituting our law and every other institution, they contend that ecological sustainability clearly meets the Supreme Court’s criteria of an UCP: our environment sustains every aspect of the Canadian state, including the constitution.

In Grassy Narrows, for example, the UCP of ecological sustainability could have accelerated much-needed remediation of mercury contamination by years or decades. In Aamjiwnaang, an ecological UCP might require the Ministry of the Environment to address the cumulative effects of multiple air emissions rather than treating each polluter as if it were the only one. In the fisheries context, regulators might, in turn, be required to desist from issuing permits where the long-term sustainability of a given fishery is in peril. In toxics regulation > (for example, through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act), a UCP of ecological sustainability would require the government to aggressively pursue the goal of zero discharge of persistent toxic chemicals-that is, those that stay in the environment indefinitely. In all cases, an ecological UCP would require Canadian governments and decision-making officials, at all levels, to become ecologically literate, and to regulate ecological realities rather than legal fiction ((Maclean et al 235).

In relation to plastics, many of the toxic chemicals produced are not only within plastics, but also emitted by plastics. This means in the examples given about fisheries, they could be forbidden to use plastics in their activities to prevent contamination with the seafood. This could apply to other industries as well.

In addition, the the recognition of an ecological UCP is tied to the constitutional aspiration of reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples. Notwithstanding the SCC implicit acknowledgement of the princuple of ecological sustainability in Tsilhqotin Nation v British Columbia , the section 35 jurisprudence provides significant preedural protections while lacking an ecological bottom line. Moreover, it is noted that “section 35 is unable to ultimately prevent ‘the construction of new infrastructure to support the highly polluting fossil fuel industry,” including projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, which are “arguably inherently unsustainable’”(Maclean et al 235)

Thus, if we examine from a legal perspective, there is a strong case for the Canadian government to take actions against single use plastic in order to protect the environment based on the precautioning principle research.

Barriers

Affordability

Manufacturing eco-friendly plastic alternatives is more expensive (can range from 5-11x more) than conventional plastic. This forces wholesalers to charge anywhere from 15%-200% more for green products9. Many food establishments cannot cope because they make slim profit margins (4.7%) (see appendix 1.1). For instance, in Convent Market, a fairly large indoor market in London, Ontario, the food vendors often complain they do not have sufficient resources to afford alternative to plastics . As a result, only the ‘higher-end establishments’ can afford to be green. For example, Ed’s Ice Cream in Leslieville (neighbourhood in Toronto with a higher cost of living than other areas in Toronto) uses birch wood spoons. These are approximately 38% more expensive than their plastic counterparts1011. Other establishments that can afford to be green are multinational companies which have greater resources to be green. Examples include Chipotle, Apple, A&W, and Whole Foods.

Lack of Incentives

Some businesses can afford alternatives to plastic, but have little or no incentive to switch because of a lack of consumer expensive. For example, Longos did a trial run of switching from plastic to paper bags. With no change in consumer reaction, Longos felt that it did not need to spend 5-6x more for a paper bag and switched back to plastic which costs a mere penny per bag12.

The Oil Industry

Plastic originates from oil. This means as long as we have an oil industry, there is a greater chance for plastics to be produced. The current (Liberal) government actually refused to eliminate the CDN $3.1 billion annual subsidy to the oil and gas sector. Renewable energy is known to be the cheapest in the world, and in fact, it is only with the federal government paying the fossil fuel industry four times more than the renewable industry that the former can stay competitive with the latter. What makes these subsidies even more perverse is that the oil industry do not need them as they have been preparing for a price on carbon by imposing their own shadow price (Maclean 900).

Shadow pricing is an investment and decision-making tool used by companies to manage their exposure to the risks associated with a carbon constrained future by imposing their own internal, hypothetical surcharges to market prices for goods and services entailing significant carbon emissions. These shadow prices range from US$15 to US$68 per tonne,282 a further demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the government’s proposed carbon price. (Maclean 900)

In addition, oil and gas representatives tend to claim that they support a carbon price because it ensures the energy market is competitive; however the costs of conventional energy production are very similar to the costs of wind and solar power, which have declined 61% and 82% respectively since 2009, despite being under-subsidized. Despite all this, the fossil fuel industry continues to denounce renewables while accepting lots of money. This leads to an issue of government transparency regarding climate change. Furthermore, multiple studies support that Canadians are in support of a carbon tax, switching away from fossil fuels, and so on. This means, that banning single use plastics are not out of the question (Maclean 901).

Scientific Research

As noted multiple times in the EU’s A Circular Economy for Plastics, there is a plethora of knowledge gaps concerning the full impact of plastic pollution. This means more research is needed to further develop stronger environmental policies.

A Brief Investigation of the EU

Plastics, while convenient to use, should be banned because of the environmental danger they pose. The misconception that plastics cannot be replaced without damaging the economy should be eradicated using EU’s success in reaching milestones to finally ban the following single use plastics:

  1. Single use plastic cutlery and plates
    1. Plastic straws
    2. Cotton Bud sticks made of plastics
    3. Plastic ballon sticks
    4. Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups

In addition, they pledge to set a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and set stricter polluter penalties. The EU estimates that the legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by 22 billion euros. 13

The EU has been able to accomplish partly because of their 3.8 trillion fund that helps their member states go green called the European Energy Efficiency Fund (EEEF)14. Using this money, the EU is able to go green through various government funded programs and partnerships with over 37 banks to provide investment opportunities and incentives for businesses who go green 15. For example, GLS Bank is a German ethical bank that finances sustainable projects. One business they invested in was Greenbox. Greenbox is a German company that focuses on providing compostable and other forms of packaging that are eco-friendly16. In addition, there are several other programs backed by the EU that aims to reward businesses to go green. 17 As implemented here, the EU has managed to make significant improvements to the environment without causing significant damage (if any) to businesses 18.

However, it is important to note that because of Mr. Scheer’s proposed green credits and tax breaks, if elected, the government can go further than the EU for taking action against plastics.

What Canada should do

Domestically

On a domestic level, Canada ought to take action against single use plastics. These actions should be broken up into three categories.

Applying the EU Model

While many have proposed the concepts of taxes, incentives and grants, issuing a phased ban in tandem with single use plastics can yield even more environmental improvements while still being business friendly. In fact, the green manufacturing and energy business is only worth 2% of our energy and manufacturing industry – yet it is worth 50 billion dollars. At full capacity, Canada can become a leader in green manufacturing that creates at least 66% more jobs and sells its manufactured products to the world. By doing this, businesses can make a profit by selling green products across the globe – which will only benefit Canadian business.

Further, businesses can work with all the banks to establish investment funds similar to the green banks found in the EU. Businesses are rewarded based on their reduction of plastics. In addition, perhaps a year after green incentives are put into place in which businesses have had time to make a transition, penalties can be imposed for using single use plastic materials.

In addition, the businesses that are green could get partial financing, grants, etc. from banks/government funds if they helped other businesses go plastic free and/or green. Such an action could be viewed as charitable and benefitting the public image of the company.

All of these incentives ensure that businesses are still protected even if a full plastic ban is issued to in 4-5 years, because by then businesses would have already invested in green to save money via incentives. Making the final transition to be plastic-free will not be a hardship for the businesses.

Fostering Innovation with a MaRS for the Environment.

MaRS is an entrepreneurial hub located in Toronto, Ontario that invests and provides connections to those who are looking to solve society’s biggest challenges. MaRS needs to expand if it is to be able to fully address the issues posed by climate change. In this new facility, we would have a dedicated plastic division in which we can bring in the financial, educational, government, business, technological, and various other industries together to address the plastic problem. This includes how to best implement a ban on single use plastics19. The benefit of a dedicated MaRS for the environment is that people can come together to create innovative solutions to solve multiple facets of climate change, rather than being stuck in a sub-division. This new facility could be located in Toronto or Halifax. An example of a product developed could be a cleaner, and more eco-friendly version of wax paper for wrapping of food in grocery stores rather than plastic.

Internationally

As a middle power, Canada has a unique role in global politics. It has the potential, and has the reputation to set an example for the international community – notably the developed states, on how they can be profitable and go green at the same time.

In addition, Canada can work with the developing world, particularly the Global South on going green. It can also work with the UN, and other organizations to develop a binding cohesive framework that not only ensures wealthy states are able to go green, but provide sustainable ways for the developing world to go green, who will be most effected by the pollution caused by the developed world. We can do this this by providing incentives for the private sector (proper guidelines would have to be in place). This increases Canada’s reputation as a green country and on the world stage.

Another benefit for Canada taking a vested interested in going green and ensuring the rest of the world does because of the growth in the renewable sector (70% of all electricity growth and 30% of power demand in 2023). This means that Canada needs to ban plastic, take action against fossil fuels to stay competitive for years to come 20.

Canada’s Reputation is at Risk

Right now, Canada’s reputation concerning the environment is very low, domestically and internationally. Canada has a long track record of breaking their promises, in particular to the environment. Taking a firm measure to go green might repair some of the damage done by the previous two governments.

Conclusion

As demonstrated in this extensive policy brief, there is significant evidence to show that there are strong reasons for Canada to go green and ban single use plastics for health, environmental, legal, and the sheer moral responsibility to protect the planet. I will end this document with a few suggestions.

Suggestions

  1. Consult with the European Union and their excellent report called: The Circular Economy of Plastics in which they note that to tackle plastic pollution, solutions we need are financial incentives for innovation concerning plastic elimination, and funding for risk management and health solutions concerning plastics (Page 39)
  2. Work and negotiate with the banks to bring further green incentives and investments for businesses to stop using plastics. Two years after incentives are put into place, start punishing companies who are not going green. For example, in product markets that have plastic and non-plastic (assuming eco-friendly) products, in which the latter is more expensive, levy taxes and penalties on plastic products while subsidizing non-plastic ones (e.g. Nestle vs BPA free Metal Water bottle)
  3. Make Incentives a tiered system. Some products such as cloth or cork are greener than paper. Businesses who use greener alternatives than plastic should be rewarded accordingly.
  4. Start to undergo a transition plan from fossil fuels to renewable energy (Canada has untapped wind and tidal sources) by working in tandem with the new proposed MaRS for the environment. Provide funding for entrepreneurs, the medical industry, education , automakers, transportation and other industries to come together to develop alternatives to plastic and fuel for every industry. Since plastic comes from oil, we can aim to ban all plastics by 2035. The world is moving to green/low carbon energy, and if Canada is to stay competitive in energy, it has to move too. However, for the transition plan, also ensure collaboration with the fossil fuel industry through education, job training, etc.
  5. Work with all political parties. The environment is not a commodity nor is it a tool, it is our home, so it is our collective responsibility to protect it.
  6. Increased government transparency concerning climate change programs.
  7. Work with provinces to create a universal climate change education program in schools that is integrated throughout all classes, and organize mandatory workshops for every business to go green. Work with the private sector, and if not enough organizations exist, then more jobs are made.
  8. Look into making a global MaRS facility for the environment, with a special division focusing on helping developing states. This makes more jobs in a rapidly growing industry of low carbon/green technology and energy.
  9. Work with organizations such as Ocean Cleanup and provide them incentives, funding, and other subsidies to clean up Canada’s oceans. In addition, work with NATO and the larger international community to set up a global framework for ocean plastic cleanup and enforceable restrictions.
  10. Work with province, municipal governments, and private sector to develop a national transportation regulatory system that is green and efficient. This will reduce congestion in roads, not only leading to better traffic and also less GHG emissions. Ban the sale of any fossil fuel cars by 2030 through the use of the green incentives and working in tandem with MaRS.
  1. Hannah M. Diaz, “Plastic: Breaking down the Unbreakable,” Florida Coastal Law Review 19, no. 1 (Fall 2018): 85-114
  2. Prata, Joana Correia. “Airborne Microplastics: Consequences to Human Health?” Environmental Pollution 234 (November 2018): 115-26. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2017.11.043.
  3. A CIRCULAR ECONOMY FOR PLASTICS
  4. Jason MacLean, “Will We Ever Have Paris: Canada’s Climate Change Policy and Federalism 3.0,” Alberta Law Review 55, no. 4 (2018): 889-932
  5. Smith, Madeleine, David C. Love, Chelsea M. Rochman, and Roni A. Neff. “Microplastics in Seafood and the Implications for Human Health.” Current Environmental Health Reports 5, no. 3 (2018): 375-86. doi:10.1007/s40572-018-0206-z.
  6. Chircop, Aldo, S. Coffen-Smout, and Moira L. McConnell. Ocean Yearbook. Vol. 32. 33 vols. Leiden: Brill Nijhoff, 2018.
  7. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 364, No. 1526, Plastics, the Environment and Human Health (Jul. 27, 2009), pp. 2127-2139
  8. Jason MacLean; Meinhard Doelle; Chris Tollefson, “The Science, Law, and Politics of Canada’s Pathways to Paris: Introduction to UBC Law Review’s Special Section on Canada and Climate Change,” U.B.C. Law Review 52, no. 1 (January 2019): 227-242
  9. See products on dhgate.com
  10. https://www.uline.ca/Product/Detail/S-7305B/Utensils/Plastic-Utensils-Bulk-Pack-Spoons-Standard-Weight-White?pricode=YE570&gadtype=pla&id=S-7305B&gclsrc=aw.ds&&gclid=CjwKCAjw67XpBRBqEiwA5RCocSFbAMF5aOgdd3tdn41zZYTPhLx-RT2b95NZ02IGYl_dYqw4wz8jrxoCddgQAvD_BwE
  11. https://www.greenmunch.ca
  12. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/01/weekinreview/01basics.html
  13. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190321IPR32111/parliament-seals-ban-on-throwaway-plastics-by-2021
  14. Eeef.eu
  15. http://www.climateaction.org/news/european-banks-launch-green-mortgage-pilot-scheme
  16. https://www.biologischverpacken.de/en/sustainability
  17. https://mygoodplanet.com/eu-sustainability-grants/
  18. Scott, J., and L. Rajamani. “EU Climate Change Unilateralism.” European Journal of International Law 23, no. 2 (2012): 469-94. doi:10.1093/ejil/chs020.
  19. Walker, Tony R., and Dirk Xanthos. “A Call for Canada to Move toward Zero Plastic Waste by Reducing and Recycling Single-use Plastics.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 133 (February 10, 2018): 99-100. doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2018.02.014.
  20. Iea.org/renewables2018