From Tuesday through Thursday this week (March 7 – 9th, 2023), a judge will hear arguments in a court case between the plastics industry and the federal government.

The plastics industry filed a lawsuit claiming that the government has no place in what the industry considers provincial and territorial-level waste management. They also cite a lack of evidence to justify regulations. A final decision on the case is expected to take several months.

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The Liberal government relied on a scientific assessment of plastic pollution published in 2020. It found that plastic pollutes rivers, lakes and other water bodies, harming wildlife and leaving microplastic fragments in the water we drink.

That report was soon followed by several federal policy and regulatory moves, culminating most recently in the federal government officially announcing dates for a ban on the manufacture, sale and import of certain plastic products.

The ban affects checkout bags, straws, stir sticks and cutlery. Some of these prohibitions have already taken effect and some won’t happen until 2025.

As the government attempted to address the pollution problem, the plastic industry accused the government in legal briefs of introducing a plan with “fatal flaws.” It’s not the federal government’s place, the complainants argue, to regulate plastic pollution when the provinces and territories typically handle waste management.

“The government’s decision to regulate all plastic products may be motivated by laudable goals (e.g., diverting waste from municipal landfills and seizing the value of a circular plastics economy),” says a court document filed on behalf of the plastics industry. “However, those goals must be pursued in accordance with the Constitution.”

The plastics industry also alleges the federal government failed to demonstrate it had enough scientific evidence to justify the regulations. The industry argues Ottawa failed “to conduct a risk assessment” and “to characterize ecological exposure to all plastic products.”

“The test for toxicity is not satisfied by proving that a single bottle cap poses a risk to a single animal,” says a legal brief filed on behalf of the plastics industry.

The plastics companies bringing the case — Dow Chemical Canada, Imperial Oil and Nova Chemicals — declined to comment or didn’t return CBC’s requests for comment. The Responsible Plastic Use Coalition — an industry group, also an applicant in the case — did not respond.

David Thurton, CBC News, March 7, 2023.

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