Environment

A recent series on Canada’s plastic waste demonstrates extreme bias without efforts to support real solutions

It’s time to address these claims and the attacks the plastics industry continues to receive as the Canadian government has taken the misguided step to call plastic manufactured items “toxic.”

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A recent series from Canada’s National Observer has repeatedly attacked the plastics industry with zero attempt to understand the importance of plastic as a versatile material or the very real and large investments the industry is making to address plastic waste. Instead the series makes baseless claims about recycling and single-use plastics while directly calling for a ban on new plastic production. It’s time to address these claims and the attacks the plastics industry continues to receive as the Canadian government has taken the misguided step to call plastic manufactured items “toxic.”

Plastics are not toxic

In its series of articles, the Observer celebrates the Canadian government’s decision to list plastic manufactured items as “toxic,” and bristles at the plastic industry’s litigation trying to right a false classification for a safe and necessary product. In one article, the writer states that plastics are toxic and should be listed on CEPA Schedule 1 because they “cause harm to the environment and human health,” a broad definition that could include everything from donuts to cars. This is the introduction, proof, and conclusion to the Observer’s argument. And yet, it is false.

Plastics are not toxic and suggesting that they are is not only misleading but dangerous. Plastics keep workers and consumers safe every day. Sustainable plastic packaging ensures that food safely reaches remote populations and last longer once they arrive. Plastic packaging also protects those with food sensitivities and allergies, limiting cross-contamination in transit and in stores. Plastics aren’t just used in healthcare applications, they protect us from hazards and make cars safer and more fuel efficient. Unlike other items on the CEPA list, including asbestos and lead, plastics do not poison or kill consumers when they pick up their takeout food. Banning plastics and suggesting a total stop in production would have far reaching and dire consequences for the Canadian economy.

Equity and accessibility under fire by privileged point of view

The articles go so far as to shamelessly attack the economic activity created by the plastics industry. The Observer’s extremist narrative threatens the livelihood of the nearly 100,000 workers in the plastics industry across Canada. These working families are the backbone of the industry. The plastics industry is also an incubator for nearly 2,000 small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada, contributing over CAD$35 billion to the country’s economy.

Yet the Observer’s out-of-touch perspective isn’t limited to the economy. The most recent article states that plastics use should “be limited to medical devices” and the health sector. This is another complete misunderstanding of just how essential plastics are, not to mention an attack on equity and accessibility. This assertion shows a blatant disregard for the necessity of plastics and demonstrates the ignorance and privilege of the writer and the publication. Plastics enable people with disabilities to have independence. As Disability Together, an advocacy organization, explained in a recent Instagram series on the importance of single-use plastics:

“Single use products help disabled people with independence and activities of daily living, such as cleaning and hygiene. They allow disabled people to easily and readily complete desired tasks without added maintenance or costs. Single-use plastic products are disposable, clean, non-porous, inexpensive, and often more accessible than other materials.”  

In their explanation of the importance of plastics, Disability Together praises the accessibility of these items, meaning not only that they’re readily available but that they are financially accessible to many people. Plastic’s relatively low cost has helped make more items affordable. Sustainable plastic food packaging lowers costs, keeps food safe from contamination and extends expiration dates, and is ubiquitous in our cars, computers, and cellphones, things we use without thought nearly every moment of the day. Plastics are also vital to the buildings we live and work in and the roads we drive on. Failure to acknowledge these benefits reveals the publication’s bias and disregard for the facts.

Blinded by its negative perspective, the Observer fails to recognize that plastics reduce emissions and help Canada reach environmental goals. Replacing plastics with alternatives would have four times the negative environmental impact, and using glass instead of plastics would produce the carbon dioxide equivalent of adding 22 coal-fired power plants. Life cycle assessments have time and again shown that plastics are the best option at every step of their life compared to other materials.

Recycling is one of the best solutions we have to plastic waste challenges

The Observer decided to cap off its series with a tired trope that recycling can’t help address plastic waste. This is false. Recycling investment in Canada is growing, and it’s already showing significant progress. RecycleBC in British Columbia has boosted recycling rates to 78%. Aggressive attacks on recycling solutions are unwarranted and risk destroying one of the best and most proven solutions we have for plastic waste challenges. Canada’s recycling rates, around 25%, are much higher than the global average and have been increasing over the last few decades. And, despite the blatant falsehood that the Observer perpetuates, all plastics are recyclable.

Through advanced recycling technologies like those supported and implemented by companies across Canada, including Merlin Plastics, ReGen, and EFS Plastics, plastic is staying in the economy and is being reused time and time again. One company, Pyrowave, has even pioneered making advanced recycling technologies more portable so they can be used with Canada’s existing recycling infrastructure. Industry is also supporting clean-up efforts and well thought out Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies to ensure that all plastic stays out of the environment. These are real solutions that the Observer conveniently overlooks to make these companies’ very real investments and advancements in recycling appear to be in vain. The Observer clearly won’t allow basic facts to get in the way of a provocative narrative.

Industry is leading the way to end plastic waste

Claims that industry should “spend their time, energy, and money figuring out how to (stop) polluting our environment” ignore the work and investments industry has already made into ensuring that no plastic ends up in the environment. Over the last four years, the plastics industry has invested over USD$5.5 billion to improve recycling and waste management infrastructure, and even more is planned. Individual companies are also doing their part to make a circular plastics economy a reality.

Companies across Canada are working to ensure that plastic products are recoverable and reusable. CleanBC, EnviroShake Shingles, and PolyAG Recycling Ltd. all use recycled plastic materials to create new products that help Canadians save electricity and reduce waste.

Unfortunately for its readers, Canada’s National Observer provides baseless statements without proof that attack one of the most valuable and versatile materials available. The Observer’s conclusions reveal the privileged and distorted lens through which they view these issues. But these misinformed conclusions are not just the fault of this publication. The Canadian government’s decision to call all plastic manufactured items “toxic” is deeply problematic. The plastics industry is working to right that terrible decision. Giving up a material as essential as plastics to all of our daily lives would harm many, and it’s something no one should be advocating for or celebrating. 

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