Ottawa seeks input on reduction, reuse, redesign of primary food plastic packaging

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (August 2, 2023, 3:42 PM EDT) -- The federal government is asking Canadian businesses and the public for help to develop a pollution prevention planning notice targeting plastic waste that Ottawa plans to publish later this year.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change Canada announced Aug. 1 that it has published a consultation paper outlining Ottawa’s current understanding of the problem of plastic pollution and proposing an approach for the country’s large grocery retailers to prepare and implement pollution prevention plans for plastic packaging that comes into direct contact with food (also called “primary food plastic packaging”).

A pollution prevention (P2) plan outlines how an organization will eliminate or reduce pollution at its source.

Ottawa has invited feedback from the public, as well as from grocery retailers and others who are interested, by Aug. 30, with a view to helping the government develop a pollution prevention planning notice (P2 notice) by the end of 2023.

The consultation is part of the Liberal government’s larger commitment to move toward zero plastic waste. The P2 notice “would require Canada’s largest grocery retailers to prepare and implement a pollution prevention plan to meet targets to reduce, reuse, and redesign primary food plastic packaging, including recycled content targets,” the government explained. “This builds on efforts and commitments by grocers and food brands to reduce plastic waste and shift away from single-use and difficult-to-recycle plastics toward a circular economy.”

The government said it wants to engage with those with $4-billion-plus grocery retail sales and who operate chains of supermarkets, grocery stores, supercentres and warehouse clubs, as well as their subsidiaries and franchises that retail general lines of fresh and prepared food products including fresh and prepared meats; poultry and seafood; canned and frozen foods; fresh fruits and vegetables; or various dairy products.

It also seeks feedback from: the food and beverage processing industry; food retail and sectoral associations, non-governmental organizations; provinces and territories; and municipal governments.

Ottawa said the planned P2 notice “is not intended to capture”: small businesses; independent grocers; specialty food stores; convenience stores; or farmers markets.

The department said it seeks “ideas and input” in several key areas:

  • objectives and factors to consider to address primary food plastic packaging waste;
  • supply chain considerations and other barriers to achieving objectives;
  • reporting and measuring success; and
  • data and insights from food retailers on the plastic footprint.

Plastic food packaging, including juice boxes, produce bags, yogurt containers and meat trays, make up approximately one-third of all plastic packaging in Canada, much of it intended for just a single use, according to the government.

The planned P2 notice is also to include targets to increase the sale of products within reuse-refill systems, concentrated products, and products free of plastic packaging, the government said. “Together, the P2 notice and the proposed Recycled Content and Labelling for Plastic Products Regulations, which are targeted for publication before the end of 2023, would reduce the overall threat of harm posed by plastic items in the environment.”

Ottawa said the planned P2 notice would contribute to reducing plastic waste and preventing pollution by:

  • Getting rid of unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging.
  • Replacing single-use plastic packaging with reuse-refill systems.
  • Making sure any plastic packaging used is designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault

A “significant amount of plastic food packaging is used only once and then ends up in landfills as waste, or in the environment as pollution,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement.

“The solution lies in the concerted action and combined efforts of all governments, industry — in this case, major grocery retailers — and Canadians,” he said. “By getting rid of problematic plastic food packaging, replacing single-use packaging with reuse-refill systems, and ensuring that plastics, if needed, are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted, we can all help move Canada toward zero plastic waste.”

The federal environment department said that in 2019 Canadians threw away 4.4 million tonnes of plastic waste, only nine per cent of which was recycled — thereby creating harmful impacts, including on nature and wildlife. The government also cited the finding of a recent audit of large grocery stores in Canada that 64 per cent of products in the produce, baby food, pet food and soup sections were packaged in single-use plastic.

Single-use food and beverage packaging made up more than a quarter of the litter found on Canadian shorelines in 2020, the government added.

Ottawa estimates that over the next decade the federal Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations will eliminate over 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution, which is equivalent to more than a million garbage bags full of litter.

The government said the proposed P2 notice builds on last May’s Regulatory Framework Paper for Recycled Content and Labelling Rules for Plastics which proposed to exempt primary food plastic packaging from recycled content requirements because of the food safety requirements under the Food and Drugs Act and the statute’s regulations, and the very limited supply and competing demands for food-grade recycled plastic resin.

In April 2024, Canada will participate in Ottawa in the fourth round of talks “with international partners on the negotiation of a new, ambitious, and legally binding international agreement on plastic pollution, which aims to end plastic pollution altogether,” the government said.

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