Federal methods for plastic pollution reduction flawed, new report says

A new report suggests that the detailed objectives published by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) addressing plastic pollution are not achievable and will lead to unintended consequences.

The report, Benefitting the environment and ecologies by reducing plastic pollution – Plastic packaging hammer policies are not the answer, was produced by Value Chain Management International (VCMI) in response to ECCC’s August 1, 2023 consultation paper. VCMI is an Oakville, Ontario-based consultancy, with a focus on food waste reduction.

The report’s authors believe that “the policies and mechanisms being proposed by ECCC strongly suggest that ECCC fails to recognize the scale of the conflated relationships that exist between pollution and GHG emissions. This includes the fact that food loss and waste represents considerably higher pollution and GHG emissions concerns than packaging.”

The report points a finger at a lack of common products, processes and infrastructure; and all levels of government having implemented a mishmash of misaligned policies and regulations dealing with packaging and plastic waste. “How we arrived at the current situation, with literally thousands of plastic packaging solutions — each differing in their recyclability (or compostability), with only a small percentage of total plastic actually being recycled — is not by accident. Nor is it by accident that most municipalities’ curbside and ICI (industrial, commercial and institutional) collection, recycling and composting programs differ,” the report notes.

The report suggest that policies and legislation needs to reflect systems thinking in order to be effective. “Only by looking at the challenges of packaging, food system emissions and food system related pollution from a systems perspective can we address the root causes of today’s situation to achieve long-lasting change that will produce significant sustainable economic and environmental benefits,” the report says.

Seeking to address plastic pollution by introducing “hammer policies”, such as outlawing plastic packaging within individual sectors or the entire food industry, is “nonsensical and will
undoubtedly create widespread unintended consequences for industry and consumers,” the authors assert. In the food sector, optimized packaging is critical to providing consumers with year-round access to safe, affordable, nutritious food, while minimizing the overall environmental and ecological impacts of food production and distribution.

The solution, the report suggests is for ECCC to establish dialogue with industry and wider expert
stakeholders. “Failure to do so will further alienate ECCC from the food and packaging industry, and
may well lead to ECCC losing its credibility as an authoritative government body. This would be
unfortunate for all concerned,” the report concludes.