In April the federal government tabled proposed amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) seeking to alter the way chemicals of concern are assessed in Canada, which currently is a scientific, risk-based approach under Canada’s Chemical Management Plan. CPCA members were fully briefed on those proposed amendments and highlighted several concerns to be considered as the government moves forward on those amendments. Many believe that an election could be called before those amendments are fully considered by a Parliamentary Committee. Surely, those around that table will have to give some credence to the importance of a science-based approach for risk assessment and risk management. That approach has served Canada well for the past fifteen years with several thousand substances fully assessed, all based on science.
Early in this federal Government’s mandate, they touted the importance of evidence-based decision-making related to their policy and programs. It’s now hoped they will return to that professional approach soon. However, the Government ignored many problems associated with their own scientific assessment of plastics, as pointed out by multiple industry groups, and proceeded with adding ‘manufactured’ plastic to Schedule 1 of CEPA anyway.
This unprecedented approach on plastics could have grave implications for the economy, including the coatings industry. The government added “plastic manufactured items” to Schedule 1 of CEPA, which creates a ‘toxic’ designation for substances listed on Schedule 1. CEPA’s focus has been on chemical ‘substance’ assessment, not ‘manufactured’ products. This was done ostensibly done to follow through on bans for certain single-use plastics already identified as the initial targets of this government. However, it overlooks the negative impact this will have on a valuable resource that can be recycled in a circular economy, rather than designated toxic and banned outright.
It may have other far-reaching implications given that it could also target other ‘manufactured’ products and the chemicals that make up those products. This decision was taken despite the fact that 171 industry groups, both associations and corporations, filed a formal Notice of Objection to halt such an action, with only 17 groups filing comments supporting the action. The latter were mostly ENGOs.
The lack of strong scientific data combined with minority support for a policy seems to be the way forward in Canada on chemical assessment. As such, it has prompted a large industry coalition, the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition, to begin preparing a legal challenge to the designation of plastic as ‘toxic,’ branding it as a “significant overreach by the federal government.” Plastic pollution has been a problem in many jurisdictions, but it is a recycling problem, not a toxic problem. Plastic and many other products have been dealt with successfully via a circular economy approach to valuable resources with legislated EPR programs to recycle various materials, including paint and coatings. These programs exist under provincial jurisdiction and many Provinces have been successful in achieving positive environmental outcomes under such programs.
It’s unclear as to why the federal government now wishes to ban plastics rather than focus on recycling them for the valuable resource they clearly are.