The Federal Court is facing a new setback to the environmental policies developed by the Trudeau government. Although plastic is rarely recycled and is a major source of pollution in Canada and elsewhere in the world, the Court has just rejected the listing of plastic items as “toxic substances”.
In the spring of 2021, the Trudeau government added manufactured plastic products to the list of toxic substances listed in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). They were therefore considered to have a harmful effect on the environment or biological diversity.
This decision, supported by scientists and environmental groups, was, however, contested by several companies in the plastic and petrochemical sector, united in a “Coalition for the responsible use of plastic” (CURP).
The CURP, which brings together nearly thirty companies from around the country such as Dow Chemicals, Imperial Oil and Nova Chemicals, argued that the designation of all plastic products as “toxic” is inaccurate. “In fact, there is no credible evidence that any of the single-use plastics are toxic,” their court filings say.
The Federal Court has just given them the right. In a decision published Thursday, it concluded that “the decree and the corresponding list of manufactured plastic items on the Schedule 1 list of toxic substances are unreasonable and unconstitutional.”
Resolution on appeal?
“The scientific data is clear: plastic pollution is ubiquitous in our environment and harms wildlife and their habitats,” federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault responded in a written statement Thursday. “The mounting evidence also shows the impact on human health. We strongly believe that action is needed to combat this crisis and prevent millions of bags of rubbish from ending up on our beaches, in our waters and in nature. That’s why we will continue to fight.”
“The Government of Canada is carefully reviewing the Federal Court ruling and is strongly considering an appeal,” he added.
Needless to say, this decision could affect the government’s ban on single-use plastic items, as it can only regulate substances for environmental protection purposes if they are listed as toxic by law.
However, the Trudeau government had decided to ban the sale of shopping bags, utensils, stirring sticks and “food containers made in whole or in part from problematic plastics that are difficult to recycle” by the end of 2023. As for “beverage container rings” and “flexible straws packed with beverage containers” (such as juice boxes), their sale was to be banned by June 2024.
According to federal government estimates, the new regulations were expected to eliminate 22,000 tons of “plastic pollution” over a 10-year period, “the equivalent of more than one million garbage bags full of garbage.” .
By comparison, approximately 29,000 tonnes of plastic are currently dumped into the environment each year in Canada. Canadians use more than 4.6 million tonnes of plastic each year, including 15 billion plastic shopping bags. However, currently barely 9% of this plastic is recycled. However, the Trudeau government has pledged to reach a 90% recycling target by 2030.
A “scientific assessment” The federal government has already highlighted the fact that there are several uncertainties about the health impacts of our chronic exposure to plastic particles.
“Humans can be exposed to microplastics by ingesting food, bottled water and tap water, as well as inhaling indoor or outdoor air. However, information on the effects of these microplastics on human health is limited and requires additional research to better determine target tissues, threshold doses, and modes of action,” the paper notes.
The analysis also indicated that pollution by plastic particles is very present in our daily lives. “Sources of indoor air pollution from microplastics include fiber loss from clothing, furniture, carpets and household items, while microplastics polluting outdoor air come from a variety of sources, including tire wear of the vehicles.”
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