Canadians submit their concerns and questions regarding plastics and we answer them here in the Q&A. Have a question not answered here? Submit a question to our experts.
Meet our Expert Advisory Panel! The Plastic Action Centre has assembled experts from across Canada to answer your questions. Meet them here.
I would like to learn more concrete information about the current state of our local (Cobourg/Northumberland) and province-wide recycling programs.
Residential recycling regulations are determined at the Provincial level, but the services you receive are provided by your local municipality. Ontario is working towards transitioning the blue box program from a shared cost between municipalities and industry stewards to full producer responsibility. That means that producers that put their packaging and materials into the marketplace will be fully responsible for their end of life management.
Are there any (or plans for any) ‘waste-shed’ local-management regulations in Ontario or any municipalities?
Each municipality in Ontario is responsible for the services they provide to their residents to dispose of recyclables and other household hazardous materials. These options can include – Environment Event Days, dedicated waste depots, seasonal waste depots, and special collection days for specific materials. You can check out your local municipality’s initiatives here.
Which agencies are focused on keeping our waste local? How can I help?
Canada has a growing marketplace for processing recycled materials locally. The Plastic Action Centre will soon have details on these companies across the country. Companies that produce plastic materials and packaging are also increasing the amount of recycled content in their products, which will generate demand for recycled inputs. Equally important is ensuring that we reduce plastic waste generated and that the plastic waste that is generated does not enter our environment. You can organize your own shore line clean up here.
What are the current laws/restrictions on exporting our waste? Are the source of these exports merely ‘bad actors’ and if so, what is being done to stop them?
Companies in Canada are not restricted from exporting material to other countries as long as they follow specific regulations and guidelines. There will always be ‘bad actors’ and it is the responsibility of the permitting agency to monitor the exports and ensure they follow the regulations. Canada introduced new regulations in 2016 requiring exporters to get permits to ship waste other countries would consider hazardous. Canada is also a signatory to the Basel Convention. The purpose of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against adverse effects from the generation, transboundary movements and management of hazardous wastes and other wastes. Canada implements the requirements of the Basel Convention through the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations. You can read more about how Canada manages transboundary waste here.
Statistics Canada reports Canada exported 44,800 tonnes of plastic waste in 2018, much of it to the United States. Once waste goes to the U.S. it is not tracked to determine what happens to it in the end. Plastics that originate in Canada are often mixed with American waste and then shipped to Asia.
Finding export markets for recyclables has been more difficult since 2018 when China began refusing any imports of recyclable material that had a contamination rate of over 0.5%. China found it was disposing more than it was recycling because the materials arriving in its ports were often too contaminated with food waste and non-recyclables to be useful.
Will you be banning black plastic until you are able to actually recycle them?
It is up to municipalities to determine what they deem acceptable for collection that falls within the capabilities of their waste management or recycling equipment. Most waste management facilities use what is called an ‘optical sorter’ to separate out recyclables into different material streams. These optical sorters are not able to visual differentiated the black plastic from the conveyor belt so this type of plastic ends up in landfill. There is also an issue of processing the black plastic in that you can only turn these materials into other options that use black plastics, whereas clear plastics can become any colour.
What can you do about disposable coffee cups?
Disposable paper drink cups are coated in plastic or wax which makes them nearly impossible to recycle with other paper recyclables. Though you can’t recycle paper cups with other paper material, the plastic lids (as long as they are not black) and the corrugated sleeves your coffee comes in are probably recyclable. The best way to deal with disposable coffee cups is to not use one!
What would “Producer responsibility” entail?
Currently in Ontario there are four material types that are designated under producer responsibility regulations: packaging (blue box material), tires, electronics and hazardous waste.
Producer responsibility means that the cost and liability of materials management is placed on industry and producers, encouraging them to reduce the environmental impacts of their products and packaging. In Ontario we are currently transitioning from ‘Producer Responsibility’ to ‘Full Producer Responsibility’ model. This means that the producers of these materials are totally accountable and financially responsible for recovering resources and reducing waste associated with their products and packaging.
For example, for packaging material (most of the things we put in the blue box), currently those costs are split between the municipalities and the producers. Under the new regulations 100% of the costs of managing these materials at the end of their life would be the responsibility of the producers who made them.
The purpose of Full Producers Responsibility is to encourage innovation in how these materials are made and packaged so they can be more easily recovered and recycled / repurposed at the end of their life. You can find out more about Ontario’s waste regulations here.
Will there be collaboration with waste management facilities so that product material innovations work with current facilities? For example, I’ve been told by the waste management people at Halton Region in Ontario that PLA products which claim to be biodegradable and compostable are not in their facility and that they do not get consulted before new products with such claims are released for sale.
It is unfortunate when new materials are put on the market making claims of recyclability without consultation with waste management experts who handle the materials. Because residential waste management happens at the municipal level and what is acceptable can vary greatly between municipalities and provinces, these products will almost never meet all the requirements inclusion in recycling streams in every jurisdiction across the country. It is up to consumers to ensure that the materials they purchase can be disposed of in their local collection systems.
Will there be a campaign to the general public to encourage the zero waste movement along with fixing items? Learning how to sew on buttons, fixing hems, mending, home repairs… things people used to do themselves. I see a bit of this kind of encouragement in the media, but not near enough!
Waste Reduction Week in Canada runs during the 3rd week in October every year and has lots of resources to encourage and promote the 3R’s and using our resources efficiently. Each day is themed and there are events that run across the country, you can find one in your community here.
Is there any municipal waste collection including bio/green cart for institutional, commercial and the industrial sector. I understand that they use private companies which simply take everything unsorted to the landfill as they are concerned about profit over the environment. The volume of waste must be far more than residential waste which is the only thing we hear about in the media. If I’m correct, that is something that needs to be addressed immediately!
The IC&I sectors’ waste generation is regulated in Ontario under the ‘Ontario Regulation 103/94 Source Separation Programs’. This regulation sets out minimum standards for the IC&I sector and the source separation programs they must implement at their facilities. These regulations also include multi-unit residential buildings. The purpose of a source separation program is to separate the waste into its material categories as well as from other wastes so that the wastes that can be reused or recycled are diverted from the landfill. You can learn more about this regulation here.
The IC&I sector also generates 45% of all food and organic waste in Ontario, the province is trying to address it with the Food and Organic Waste Framework which encourages reduction/prevention of food waste, resource recovery, and supporting end markets for recovered resources; aligned with the Strategy for a Waste Free Ontario.
Some municipalities, like Toronto, offer their collection services to commercial and multi residential buildings, it is up to the property or business owner to make decisions regarding who will collect their waste and recyclables and that they are in compliance with the waste regulations.
Many recyclable materials have a value that waste management facilities can capitalize on, whereas disposal in landfill will always be a cost. It is more advantageous for the materials to be properly separated so that they can be processed properly.
“What does Trudeau mean by “harmful” single-use plastics? I would like to know what exactly that entails.”
Single use plastics include things like straws, cotton swabs, plastic bags, and balloons and can be very harmful when they enter our ecosystems. These items may be used for just a few minutes, but take hundreds of years to degrade – and when they do they are only breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, they don’t decompose the way something like a food product will.
Much of this plastic waste is ending up in our lakes and oceans through human actions such as littering, displacement during transport, or being flushed down our toilets.
These tiny pieces, called microplastics, end up being ingested by marine wildlife. Many of them die due to malnutrition, the plastic stays in their stomachs and makes them feel full, but without proper nutrition, they starve to death. We eat many of these marine creatures and the plastic they ingest ends up in our bodies potentially making us sick as well. It is all connected, polluting our environment directly affects our health and the health of our ecosystems and if we produce less waste to begin with, less will end up in places it does not belong.
What are the negative effects COVID-19 has had on the environment?
A major negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the environment is the generation of personal protective equipment (PPE) waste such as gloves and masks. These materials are all single-use and must be disposed at their end of life. Unfortunately, PPE is being found as litter in cities, parks, and waterways. Throughout the pandemic, it is estimated that 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves are being used monthly around the world. To help reduce PPE waste, choose a reusable mask that can be washed and reused.
Why are bioplastics labeled as compostable not accepted in my green bin?
Compostable bioplastics are not accepted by most municipal and commercial compost or recycling programs because they require different composting conditions than most organic materials. These conditions – such as extreme high heat and humidity – can only be achieved in an industrial composting system. Learn more in our Breaking Down Bioplastics Infographic.
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