The Rubber Band of Canada’s Single-Use Plastic Ban
History and Context
In June 2019, the Government of Canada announced a plan to ban the sale, manufacture, and importation of single-use plastics starting as early as 2021, a plan that would come to full fruition in December 2022. On November 16th, 2023, the single-use plastic ban was overturned by a Canadian court, and while that decision may feel like a green light to you as an importer, we urge restraint and caution. Putting aside whether this overturn lasts at all, as an importer, you may find that Canada’s appetite for single-use plastics has significantly shrunk since the last time it was legal.
What Items Are Included in the Single-Use Plastics Ban?
Single-use plastics or “plastic manufactured items” (PMIs) come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The single-use plastics prohibition regulations include:
- Plastic bags
- Ring carriers
- Stir sticks
- And, most famously - straws
What Happened and What Now?
It’s tempting to use the term ‘overturned’ in describing the current state of this ban, but what has actually happened is the order that added PMIs to the List of Toxic Substances was quashed - a legal term meaning set aside or voided. The Government of Canada can't enforce a regulation that references articles in a quashed order and, as a result, has effectively overturned the ban.
So, why did Canada reverse this single-use plastic issue? The short answer is that a not-for-profit corporation known as the Responsible Plastics Use Coalition brought a case to a federal court claiming that the broad-brush approach the legislation took was an ‘overreach’ by the Government of Canada. Justice Anglea Furlanetto agreed, citing that it was “unreasonable and unconstitutional” to label all PMIs as harmful without sufficient scientific backing, and quashed the order.
Does that mean shopping bags and straws will soon fill the shopping centers near you?
No, and as an importer, there is cause to be cautious.
As Stewart Elgie, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview with the National Post:
“The federal government still has ample authority to regulate plastics that are harmful to the environment. They just have to do it in a targeted way and have the proper scientific support behind it.”
Not only that, but the actual legal proceedings surrounding this can be long and protracted, from appeals - which are starting already - to interim orders; there are myriad ways that this can continue for many months and years to come.
In truth, this judgment, and subsequent quashing, doesn’t delete any PMIs from the List of Toxic Substances in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act - that decision ultimately falls to the Governor in Council, as quoted in Section 203 of Justice Furlanetto’s decision.
What Does This Mean for You?
As an importer into Canada, this might mean a few things to you. First, and most importantly, if you are in this business and are eager to get started importing single-use plastics again - it is inadvisable to act rashly. Before making large single-use plastic purchases, consider whether you still have clients willing to buy them.
For example, many large-scale grocers have gone on record stating that they have no intention of returning to single-use plastic bags. Many of them are on board with reducing plastic waste, and the purchasing of these single-use plastics is a cost they have not had to pay for in almost two years. There are opportunities as an importer to be explored here, but we urge caution and careful research before you commit to anything.
What will be enforceable and what will not is still very much in flux, so rushing to take advantage of the disruption of this legislation is a surefire way to discover the often prickly nuances of government regulations firsthand.
It is undeniably a complicated affair, and there are many different ways it can ultimately end. Still, the best way to stay on top of it and take full advantage of the latest as the situation develops is by contacting our Trade Advisory team.
Working closely with our compliance experts, we can help guide you through the regulations as they exist and are currently enforced. We stay updated on the latest legislation and regulations, so you don’t have to.
If you have any questions about this or any import/export regulations and legislation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today!