Good afternoon. My name is Helen Ryan, and I'm the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of the Environmental Protection Branch at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
I am joined today by my colleagues Nancy Hamzawi, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Science and Technology Branch, Jacinthe Seguin and Dany Drouin.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and for your interest in the federal government's work on plastics.
I'd like to begin by providing some context on plastic waste, including our international commitments, the domestic strategy on plastic waste, and waste management in Canada.
Plastics are present in every part of the economy and the lives of Canadians, due to their low cost, durability and high performance. It's really changed a lot of the ways we live in the world. They're especially prevalent in materials and products used in consumer goods, the health sector, the automotive sector, for construction, the textile sector and a myriad of others.
Plastics have caught the world's attention. Plastic pollution is pervasive. It collects on shorelines, in waterways and sediments; it entangles or is ingested by fish, birds and other species, and is found in our food. Plastics of various types and sizes, from macroplastics to microplastics, are found in populated regions and the most remote areas of Canada and the world.
Globally, an average of 8 million tonnes of plastic waste are entering the oceans from land every year. The estimated value of this material leaving the economy as waste is in the billions of dollars. Plastic waste is an important issue affecting ecosystems and economies around the world.
There's considerable momentum internationally to take action on marine litter and plastic waste. Last year, Canada championed the development of the ocean plastics charter during our G7 presidency. The charter contains commitments and concrete targets with respect to recycling, reuse and recovering of plastics, with the goal of stopping the flow of plastics into the environment.
These targets include working with industry towards 100% reusable, recyclable and recoverable plastics by 2030; increasing the recycled content by at least 50% in plastic products, where applicable, by 2030; and working with other orders of government to recycle and reuse at least 55% of plastic packaging by 2030 and recover 100% of all plastics by 2040.
Achieving this targets will keep valuable plastics in the economy—this is what we refer to as the circular economy. To date, 18 governments around the world and 54 organizations have signed on to the charter.
Canada also announced funding of $100 million last year to support developing countries improving their solid waste management systems, for example. We also urged our G7 partners to do the same, as better systems will go a long way to solving the global marine litter problem.
In Canada, the management of plastic waste is a shared responsibility. Provincial and territorial governments manage, for example, the operation of landfill sites and recycling facilities, and their funding and fee structures.
Municipalities generally manage the recycling and composting programs for households, establish litter by-laws and educate citizens on waste reduction. Industry is increasingly playing a role in funding and operating recycling programs as part of producer responsibility programs.
The federal government plays a role through the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, and by preventing toxic substances from entering the environment.
My department is an active member of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, which is our main forum for collaborating with provinces and territories on issues related to plastic waste. For example, we played a leading role in the development of the Canada-wide action plan on extended producer responsibility, adopted by CCME ministers in 2009. They committed to developing the framework for legislation and promoting a harmonized approach to EPR programs and policies across Canada.
Last November, Minister McKenna and her provincial and territorial counterparts approved in principle the Canada-wide strategy on zero plastic waste, and also agreed to work collectively toward a common overall waste reduction goal.
Work is currently underway on the development of an action plan on zero plastic waste, which will include measures to address five priority areas in the strategy: product design, single-use plastics, collection systems, markets, and recycling capacity.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is also conducting research, collaborating with other federal departments and engaging with stakeholders and other levels of government to support the move to a circular economy approach to plastics. Recently, my department commissioned a comprehensive economic study of the plastics sector in Canada by Deloitte.
The Deloitte study documents that plastics represented a $35-billion industry in 2017 in Canada. That's for the production, manufacturing and recycling activities. They estimated that in 2016 about 86% of plastic ended up in landfills; 4% was used as fuel or energy, and 1% was lost to the environment. Only 9% was recycled. This represents a lost value of $7.8 billion in 2016. This loss is projected to grow to $11 billion in 2030 if our recycling and recovery rates remain at their current levels.
Over 200 businesses in Canada are involved in plastics recycling, 80 of which make up the core of our recycling sector.
To reach our goals of diverting 55% of plastic packaging from landfills by 2030, and 100% of all plastic waste by 2040, the competitive recycling sector needs the right conditions to expand and diversify.
If we work to increase our diversion rate of plastics to 90% from 9%, we could generate 40,000 new jobs and reduce up to 2 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
A I mentioned previously, last November environment ministers launched the Canada-wide strategy on zero plastic waste. The strategy recognizes the utility and value of plastics in our society and proposes a circular economy approach to reach zero plastic waste and reduce plastic pollution.
The three broad areas of work outlined in the strategy are to prevent plastic waste, to increase its collection and to improve the recovery of plastics back into the economy.
The strategy identifies 10 result areas that require action along the entire life cycle of plastics, and in enabling activities. These areas are product design, single-use plastics, collection systems, markets, recycling capacity, consumer awareness, aquatic activities, research and monitoring, cleanup and global action.
In February, the CCME organized a multi-stakeholder workshop where over 130 participants from across the value chain discussed and debated solutions for the first five results areas of the strategy. The first phase of the action plan will be submitted to environment ministers in June.
Science and research are integral to success. We need to understand the issue and the potential risks. Science and research are needed to make evidence-based policy decisions, to support action, and to help drive innovation.
Experts in our department and across the federal government are working to advance the understanding of plastics in the environment, including their sources, fate and effects.
We recently hosted science workshops focused on identifying priorities for scientific research. Priorities and gaps identified covered the entire life cycle of plastics and included understanding the impacts of plastics on wildlife and human health; standardizing how we monitor and characterize the sources, pathways and fate of plastics in the environment; developing new materials and technologies to increase the recyclability and compostability of plastics; supporting informed usage and disposal of plastics; and innovation to enhance the capture and value recovery of existing and future plastics.
Our researchers are also working with partners to evaluate the impacts of plastic pollution on seabirds, fish, shellfish and plankton. We want to understand how plastics and associated contaminants move through the food chain. This is particularly relevant for some of our northern indigenous partners and needs to consider hunted species, such as seals.
We are also conducting research looking at the long-range transport, source, fate and impacts of plastics in the Canadian Arctic to inform possible mitigation efforts.
We're taking actions to reduce plastic waste in our government operations. Last September, the federal government committed to divert at least 75% of the plastic waste from its operations by 2030. This will be accomplished through changing our practices and through the procurement of more sustainable plastic products, such as those that are reusable, recyclable, repairable or made with recycled plastic content.
Working with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and other federal departments, we are also supporting Canadian innovation. Over $12 million is being provided to Canadian innovators to tackle plastic challenges in seven key areas: separation of mixed plastics; food packaging; plastic waste from construction activities; ghost fishing gear and marine debris; improved compostability of bioplastics; recycling of glass fiber-reinforced plastic; and sustainable fishing and aquaculture gear.
In total, 124 submissions were received for the innovation challenge for plastics. Winners will be announced later this month.
Other federal actions include the phased—
Excellent. Thank you for those opening comments.
I should have mentioned at the start that this is our first hearing on plastic pollution. We've set aside a total of six two-hour hearings on this. The intention today was to hear from officials, as well as some outside experts—which will continue on Wednesday—to help us understand the nature of the plastics issue facing the planet and the role that Canada could play with federal leadership.
Today we're looking at fairly high-level comments. On Wednesday, at five o'clock, the idea is that we'll go in camera and decide where we want to focus in the remaining four sessions with eight hours of testimony, because we do want to table a report before the session ends. We'll need to be fairly tight, given the limited amount of time we have. On this, we can't study the full range of things.
That's a bit of context for what we're doing.
I would also invite the department to submit the Deloitte report that was referenced. If there are any other materials, you can always send them to our clerk and they can be shared with the committee, which, again, will help us understand the nature of the plastics issue facing the planet.
With that, I will go right to Mr. Amos....
The final thing, looking at the time, is that we have divided the committee into a first round of questions and then a second round. If we go through the first round of four sets of six-minute questions, that will take us to about the end of the time we have for today. That will give the Liberals two rounds, Mr. Fast one and Mr. Stetski one. We'll see where we're at, but that's what I'm thinking. That would be the end of the first round of questions, and then we could get into our second panel.
Thank you for inviting me.
The committee's work is very important. Canadians are expecting a lot from you and their government. It's becoming clear that people are feeling anxiety about the environment, and they want immediate action.
I spent part of the weekend reviewing your action plan. I prepared a brief that you should be receiving in the next few days, once it's been translated. I want to commend you. The plan takes account of the circular economy in quite a meaningful way. A circular economy strategy is very beneficial to a nation's economic development.
I'd like to draw your attention to three of the priority result areas. The first is collection systems, the idea being to keep all plastic products in the economy and out of the environment. A parallel could be drawn with contaminated soils, in the sense that the negative externalities are high because the substance is not disposed of properly. Furthermore, the market has not been able to hold bad actors accountable.
In Quebec, we've been able to set up a traceability scheme to track the movement of contaminated soils. A similar system should be used for plastics. Much of the plastic that leaves recycling plants ends up in the environment or is shipped to other countries. Scientific monitoring is needed in order to understand where the substances wind up accumulating. Applying the extended producer responsibility, or EPR, model to the plastics industry can have a positive impact. Our experience in Quebec has shown that EPR outcomes can really vary from product to product, so it's important to make sure that the industry-wide scheme is robust enough to be effective.
At the end of the day, producers should find their own ways to have their products recycled. All the government should do is ensure that the industry has achieved the desired results. That brings me to my first recommendation, adopting a plastics traceability system and an extended producer responsibility scheme to account for all of the negative effects of pollution. The secondary objective would be to raise the value of recycled resins and ensure processors have access to them. Currently, what we are hearing from the recycling industry is that these materials aren't adequately available and that companies struggle to incorporate recycled materials into new products.
The second priority result area I'd like to draw your attention to is empowering Canadian households, businesses and institutions. Through social media, people have learned that a lot of plastic waste ends up in the environment, to the outrage of many. A recent movement called Break Free from Plastic has led to cleanup initiatives in 42 countries, and the collected plastics were audited. In Canada, the top five polluters were responsible for 42% of the plastic trash collected: Nestlé, Tim Hortons, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and McDonald's. It's clear industry has a role to play. In Quebec, the cost of cleaning up garbage along the side of the road has risen 43% since 2011. People's lack of civic-mindedness has a cost, and it is being borne by entire communities, municipalities and government departments. The time has come for the industry to step up and take responsibility for dealing with these plastics.
The pressure has sparked innovation. A deposit return scheme is a great way to hold all actors accountable and should be applied to single-use plastics—something we're seeing more and more. Some Montreal coffee shops, for instance, belong to a program where customers can buy a cup of coffee and then leave the cup at another participating coffee shop, where they can get another cup. The cup isn't reusable; it has a deposit on it.
According to media reports, the big companies are looking at a similar system. The same applies to windshield wiper fluid containers; they are no longer necessary because people can get their fluid filled right at the gas station.
Putting pressure and restrictions on industry brings about innovation on the reuse front. Transferring the financial burden to industry is key if all stakeholders are to pay less.
The last priority result area I would like talk to about is number eight: research and monitoring systems. Indeed, this process is taking a long time and more data is certainly needed. Right now, we don't know where all this is going. We don't understand the full scope of plastic waste, so taking the time to make the right decisions is essential.
It may be tempting to move quickly and impose bans, but that can have adverse effects, as we saw in the case of biodegradable and oxo-biodegradable bags. They had a harmful impact on the environment.
Systemic change is really what's needed in terms of economic drivers. The way we manage plastics currently is costing us all dearly.
That's why I recommend supporting research and businesses, as CREDDO is doing. We are one of 16 industrial symbiosis networks in Quebec. I manage a team of three people who travel around to support companies and help develop circular economy initiatives. We are active in the area of agricultural plastics, not to mention many others, in the Outaouais region, and it's working.
Businesses are willing to act and change their business model because they see that it is profitable. The situation simply has to change because it's not a level playing field. We need more data to bring about a circular economy, especially in the plastic sector.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear.
The Smart Prosperity Institute is a clean economy research network and think tank at the University of Ottawa. We've appeared in front of this committee and the Senate committee on issues such as this quite regularly. Carbon pricing and climate policy, clean innovation and environmental impact assessment are some of the different areas that we do research on. We focus on public policy research to grow the economy and to protect the environment concurrently. We're evidence-based and non-partisan.
One of the major areas that we've turned our minds to now is the circular economy and plastics waste. We're active on the issue, both as a research institute and as part of the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition. I'll speak about that coalition briefly in my remarks as I go on.
As you noted, Mr. Chair, I'm here with my colleague Usman Valiante. Usman is one of Canada's foremost experts on the policies that we can use to manage plastics waste, and he was the lead author on the major report we released on the topic. I have copies of that if people are interested. Usman will participate in the question and answer period.
I should say thank you to the clerk and to the chair for accommodating that request at the last minute. It's an idea that I kind of had at 2 o'clock on a Sunday, so thank you for getting him on the line for this.
In my remarks, I'll speak quickly on three issues. First, I'll tell you why there's such a significant corporate and civil society interest in plastics right now. Second, I'll talk about the policies that government can activate in order to make progress on the issue. Finally, I'll share some thoughts on the role that civil society and business can play—complementing the government role—to help move this issue along.
First, Environment Canada testified earlier on the urgency of the issues, the actions the government is taking, the science behind it all and the commitments we've taken on, so I won't spend much time on this. I just want to convey a couple of points that are perhaps supplemental to that.
At SPI, at my institute, we tend to focus on issues where we see an environmental problem and a significant economic opportunity that can be realized in addressing that problem. With regard to plastics, studies have shown that, globally, somewhere between $100 billion and $150 billion of economic activity is jeopardized by allowing plastics to be disposed of and not reused. There's a huge economic potential in addressing this issue. As Ms. Ryan mentioned, we're capturing only about 12% of plastics within the recycling system in Canada. The exact amount is debatable, but a significant part of that 12%, even, is not actually recovered and reused within the recycling system.
It's partly due to this that we launched the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition last year at the G7 environment ministers' meeting in Halifax. I won't go into the details of this, but you can visit the website. It's an initiative made up of some of Canada's largest and most significant retailers and civil society organizations. It's chaired by Unilever Canada and The Natural Step Canada, and it's working to make Canada a world leader in a sustainable, prosperous, zero-waste, low-carbon emissions circular economy.
My second point—probably the most salient to the work that you're undertaking now—is what governments can do on this issue. I have copies of our policy brief, and we can answer more questions on that. We looked at six policies that governments at different levels can activate in order to make progress on plastics. They're designed to reduce the waste of plastics and recapture the value of those plastics back into our economy.
The first is a broad class of policies that assign property rights and responsibilities to end-of-life plastics. Extended producer responsibility was mentioned, and it's the most significant of these and the most commonly cited. It induces producers of plastics to be responsible for the end-of-life phase of their products, and the result is that there's a supply of reused plastics that become available for manufacturing and available to the economy—again, recirculating them through the economy. British Columbia has probably the most cited and best-known set of EPR programs in the country, but there is little question—I'd say no question—that there aren't enough of these in the country, and that the ones we have aren't working well enough and are too fragmented to really be able to achieve the levels of plastics waste reduction that we want to achieve across the country.
The second set of policies gets to one of the questions that one of the members asked earlier. They are policies that set recycled content performance standards. They either set a minimum percentage of recycled content that has to be in a product or in packaging, or they can operate as a tax mechanism whereby you pay less and less tax the closer your recycled content comes to the legislated or government-sanctioned standard.
There is a third set of policies we look at, and this is going to sound a little bit administrative and bureaucratic, but it's actually incredibly important. Government has a really significant role in creating common definitions, performance standards, and measurement and assessment protocols. Those really are the keys to enabling policies to operate harmoniously across the country or across an economy. Without them, you really fall, in this area, into fragmented systems and fragmented markets and policy directions. From Ms. Ryan's remarks, you can see the incredible suite of policies and actions that can be activated for plastics waste. Having some level of consistency across them becomes really important to the market actors who are out there trying to respond to them.
The last three we looked at—I'll be really brief—are prohibitions or bans on certain plastics, economic instruments to internalize the costs, and pricing for greenhouse gas emissions associated with the burning of plastics.
My last point—and I'll be extremely brief on this, Mr. Chair—is about what organizations like ours or coalitions like the ones we put together, or other civil society organizations that are out there, can do to help on this. I suggest that the federal government needs to think creatively about how to use outside-of-government organizations. As I alluded to, and as you can draw from Ms. Ryan's remarks, a lot of action is needed at different levels of government, and the risk of differing or non-aligned market signals is really significant. Some of the outside-of-government players can play a role in raising awareness about the solutions that can be activated and in socializing some of those solutions for politicians; in research that helps inform government policies and business practices; and in developing some of the solutions and policy frameworks. One example that a lot of people cite is the UK Plastics Pact, which in the U.K. is incentivizing businesses to reduce their plastic waste.