Explainer: Canada’s ban on single-use plastic

The manufacture and import of most listed items will be prohibited for the purpose of selling them starting Dec. 20

Canada's plastic ban starts December 2023 to allow businesses time to sell their stock and transition to environmentally friendly products. (Shutterstock / marcinm111)

Canada’s plastic ban starts December 2023 to allow businesses time to sell their stock and transition to environmentally friendly products. (Shutterstock / marcinm111)

On June 20, the federal government announced a plan to ban various types of single-use plastics to work towards zero plastic waste by 2030. This comes after a number of calls for measures to reduce Canada’s plastic pollution, and aims to meet the commitments Canada made in the Ocean Plastics Charter and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The list includes plastic grocery bags, cutlery, stir sticks, and straws, but with restrictions for flexible or bendable straws. The export of plastics in the six categories will be prohibited by the end of 2025. 

Stores can sell flexible straws in a package of 20 or more, but the package cannot be on display in sight of a customer and will require a store employee to get them. This was decided because flexible straws are useful and sometimes required for people with physical disabilities or those in a long-term care facility, according to CBC. Juice box straws will fall under a ban after June 20, 2024. 

Up to 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used every year by Canadians, and the government estimates about 16 million straws are used daily. Although some grocery stores have already stopped selling plastic bags with reusable bags available for purchase, the sale of these items won’t be prohibited until December 2023 to allow businesses time to transition to reusable and environmentally friendly products and sell their current stock. 

The government expects the ban to eliminate over 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastics and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution over the next decade. This is equal to more than one million garbage bags of litter. Canadians create more than three million tonnes of plastic waste each year, but only nine per cent is recycled and the rest sits in the landfill. 

Approximately 80 per cent of the plastic waste in the ocean comes from land-based sources, and some of Canada’s plastic waste is shipped abroad to countries in Southeast Asia where many don’t have infrastructure to process the waste, according to Oceana. This most often results in plastic being incinerated or entering the environment. 

Canada’s plastic bans are estimated to cover less than five per cent of what the country generated in 2019, reads a statement from Greenpeace Canada

The ban on plastics could also reduce carbon emissions in Canada by 1.8 megatonnes annually, according to the news release. Tackling plastic pollution in Canada is one of the government’s actions to “green” the environment and encourage the use of sustainable products. The government plans to extend the life of products and divert a minimum of 75 per cent of plastic waste from federal operations by 2030. 

The government will provide a $20 million incentive to develop social or technological solutions for sustainable management of plastics, in accordance with the G7 Innovation Challenge to Address Marine Plastic Litter. This includes new sustainable product designs, wastewater management and cleanup, and increasing education and awareness.