The Federal Court decision that the backbone of Ottawa’s single-use plastic ban is “unconstitutional and unreasonable” is generating disappointment for some in the environmental movement.
And it is also raising questions about whether the plastic bags, straws and takeout containers listed under the ban could make a comeback.
“I mean, we were very disappointed. And this is a real setback to the federal government’s plans to address the plastic pollution crisis,” said Ashley Wallis, associate director with Environmental Defence in Toronto.
Both Environmental Defence and Greenpeace Canada are calling on the federal government to appeal the ruling, something Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said he’s “strongly considering.”
But where do things go from here?
The court challenge was brought forward by a group called the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition (RPUC), made up of plastic producers including Dow Chemical and Imperial Oil.
They successfully argued that the May 2021 cabinet order classing “plastic manufactured items” as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) was too broad.
In a statement, the RPUC said it is glad that the court upheld the provisions of the CEPA and believes industry and the government can work collaboratively to reduce plastic waste.
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This classification allowed Ottawa to ban a wide variety of single-use plastics because under the CEPA, the federal government can ban toxic substances.
With this classification retroactively overturned, does it mean single-use plastics like bags and straws will come roaring back?
Not likely, it seems.
Two of Canada’s major grocers, Loblaws and Metro, both tell Global News they will not be bringing back plastic shopping bags.
“No. Loblaw’s elimination of single use front end plastic bags was a part of our broader commitment to make 100 percent of all our in store and control brand plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025,” Loblaws said in an emailed response when asked if it planned on bringing plastic bags back.
“No we’re not considering bringing back plastic bags,” Metro communications manager Geneviève Grégoire said when asked the same question.
Walmart Canada says its work to eliminate plastic bags from its stores began in 2019 and it estimates this removes 680 million from circulation annually.
“We made this change as a significant milestone on our journey to becoming a regenerative company, well in advance of the government’s announced regulations, because it was the right thing to do,” said Stephanie Fusco with Walmart Canada corporate affairs.
Global News has reached out to other major grocers and will update with their responses.
Several provinces and territories, including British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon, also all have their own regulations enacting single-use plastic bans to varying degrees.
A handful of municipalities, like Montreal, Edmonton and Moncton, N.B., also have local bylaws banning either plastic shopping bags or single-use plastics.
This patchwork of regulations means that national restaurant chains aren’t going to swap out recyclable or compostable takeout materials any time soon, according to Restaurant Canada’s government relations manager Richard Alexander.
“So the industry has been moving in this direction for quite some time, even before the ban was introduced,” he said.
“I would suspect that this will have this court case will have very little impact on that direction. It’s going in that direction. I can’t see the industry going backwards.”
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With governments and businesses looking toward making environmentally conscious decisions, York University waste management researcher Calvin Lakhan doesn’t anticipate single-use plastics coming back to most areas where they’ve been already phased out.
“We spent so much time saying that plastics are bad for the environment and empowering users by saying if you use reusable, that this is going to be what’s the most sustainable option,” Lakhan said.
“And so I think that any sort of movement away from that sends a really bad message to consumers that I think would cause a lot of confusion and discontent.”
While Lakhan is skeptical of a plastic bag comeback, he agrees in principle with the judge’s ruling.
“There’s no such thing as a bad material or good material. It depends on the context in which you use it,” he said.
“So, plastics absolutely has a role to play in a sustainable economy, but it also damages the environment.… It’s a balance of finding what are the opportunities where we can move away from plastics into more sustainable alternatives.”
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