Closeup of a PS #6 recycling symbol.

Data gathering, policy and clarity in labeling are all recycling topics grabbing attention in Canada. | Daniel Fung/Shutterstock

A survey by the Canadian government found that stakeholders and citizens want better recyclability and compostability labeling. 

The report, which came out of two public consultations on establishing a federal plastics registry and developing rules for recyclability and compostability labeling, found that “Canadians want concrete action to better manage plastics – to protect the environment, conserve biodiversity and strengthen the economy,” a press release noted. 

The surveys solicited written comments from July 25, 2022, to Oct. 7, 2022, and also included webinars in which interested parties could provide their feedback. Most attendees were upstream industry stakeholders, the report stated, but there were some members of the public, NGOs, government officials from across the country and other industry players.

The labeling rules under development would ban the use of the chasing arrows symbol and other recyclability claims on plastic packaging and single-use plastics unless specific conditions were met, such as making sure at least 80% of Canadians have access to recycling systems that accept, sort and re-process the item. 

The report noted that many stakeholders commented that the proposed 80% threshold was too high and a phased-in approach would be better. Others said the labeling should apply to all products and packaging, including industrial, commercial and institutional. 

“Both industry and government stakeholders commented that the Government of Canada should not interrupt the implementation of provincial EPR programs. They also commented that alignment and harmonization within existing EPR regulations should be prioritized,” the report stated.

Harmonization and more

Alignment with other jurisdictions, including the United States and Europe, to harmonize labeling rules, was also a favored idea in the survey. 

The rules would also control use of the terms “compostable,” “degradable” and “biodegradable”, and set up a federal plastics registry that would require annual reporting of plastics introduced to the economy and how they’re managed at the end of their lives. 

During the comment period, industry stakeholders emphasized that there are large gaps between current data-gathering practices and those required to support the registry. They said some data may not even be available to producers to meet the requirements. 

“Industry stakeholders expressed concerns about how a federal plastics registry would protect confidential business information,” the report stated. “They also expressed concerns about how the publication of this data without sufficient aggregation could affect fair market competition.” 

Some stakeholders wanted the registry to include material types, primary resin production and the presence of additives, but there was “general agreement that a federal plastics registry could collect valuable data to support existing provincial EPR programs.” 

Small business exemptions from registry reporting were also broadly supported. 

The government plans to publish a proposed framework for the regulations later this year, which will be open to public comment. The labeling rules would be part of the regulations on minimum levels of PCR in certain products.

Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, said in the press release that to keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment, the country needs to strengthen recycling and other systems, and that it must educate consumers. 

“We need clearer labeling, better data collection and enhanced rules for responsible supply chains and producers that are consistent, comprehensive and transparent,” he said. “Together, these tools will help Canada make measurable progress toward zero plastic waste.”

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