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Proposed bill banning plastic waste exports misses ‘heart of the problem,’ MPs told
Environmental groups say a bill aiming to ban Canadian plastic waste from being sent abroad to poor countries is missing the wording needed to properly tackle the issue.
Bill C-204, sponsored by Conservative MP Scot Davidson, seeks to halt only the export of plastic waste labelled “for final disposal.”
“The biggest global problem which Mr. Davidson and others hope to address with this bill will not be addressed, because the bill currently only looks at exports for final disposal,” James Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, told the environment parliamentary committee Monday. “The bill currently does not address the heart of the problem, which is exports for recycling.”
As noted by the Basel Action Network and other organizations, Canadian plastic is often mislabelled as recyclable — when it’s in fact contaminated — and gets shipped to countries that lack the proper infrastructure to effectively recycle mixed or contaminated plastic waste.
The result is waste being dumped on farmland or set on fire.
Davidson’s private member’s bill in its current form would not deal with this issue, however he says he welcomes amendments.
“I’m open to working with this committee and following along with amendments that the committee looks at,” Davidson said. “This is a chance for us, again, as parliamentarians to have Canada take a leadership role.”
Canada produces an estimated 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, according to a 2019 study produced by Deloitte and Cheminfo Services Inc. for Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Puckett estimates Canada exports about 1,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste per month to developing countries.
China used to be the top importer of plastic waste until 2018 when it banned plastic waste imports, which made Canada and others pivot to Malaysia, the Philippines and other destinations.
However, they’ve also pushed back. Last year, Malaysia sent back 150 shipping containers of plastic waste to countries including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, saying it won’t be the “garbage dump” of the world.
Environmental groups and some MPs of the environment committee also take issue with the fact Canada has yet to ratify an amendment to strengthen a United Nations treaty called the Basel Convention that restricts the international hazardous waste trade.
The amendment, which came into force Jan. 1, 2021, categorizes any non-hazardous plastic waste that is not recyclable, or is “difficult” to recycle, as waste that needs “special consideration,” requiring that countries first obtain prior informed consent from a receiving country before exporting the waste.
All of the European Union and more than 60 other countries have ratified the change.
The U.S. is one of only two countries never to ratify the Basel Convention. Since it’s not bound by these restrictions, Canada was able to make a bilateral deal last year to ship its plastic waste down south. Once Canadian waste enters the U.S., it is no longer tracked, and so it’s then able to be resold to overseas companies.
Unless Bill C-204 changes its wording and deals with the U.S. “loophole,” MPs and environmental organizations say it won’t be effective.
The bill passed at second reading in the House of Commons last fall with 178 votes from the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, NDP, Greens and Independents.
Liberals voted against.
The environment committee will reconvene to further discuss the bill Wednesday.