Chemistry industry not on board with 2021 plastics ban

There are more effective ways to deal with problems with plastic than banning it, according to the association that represents many of the companies that make the ingredients used in plastic products.

The federal government says it intends to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021, which could include everyday items like bags, straws or cutlery.

That ban isn’t unexpected, said Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.

“We would believe there’s better ways [than a ban],” he said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.

Chemical Industry executive Bob Masterson said banning single-use plastics isn’t the most effective way to deal with the world’s plastic problem. (Chemistry Industry Association of Canada )

“The problem of marine plastic litter is a pretty serious global problem. Canadians see the images on the news and they do want to see a response,”said Masterson.

However Masterson argues the environmental consequences of single use plastic are more complicated than the straightforward images of pollution sometimes seen in the media.

“That’s only looking at part of the lifecycle of the product,” he said. Masterson said he believes some alternatives to plastic have a higher overall environmental impact.

Waste-free store Fenigo in Waterloo offers silicone, bamboo and metal straws as a reusable alternative to a plastic straw. (Alexandra Burza/CBC)

“That lowly plastic bag — if you want to replace that with a  carry bag that you will reuse over and over — you need to reuse that carry bag three hundred times before you’ll have an environmental improvement over using 300 plastic bags,” he said.

The industry representative also pointed out that alternatives such as glass can create higher greenhouse gas emissions when being manufactured.

Municipalities can’t handle issue alone

Officials with the city of Calgary said they welcomed the federal ban because single use plastics is a huge issue for them — one that’s too big for a municipality to handle alone.

“It’s something that’s nationwide. It means that  it’s a level playing field for all cities and all communities and we’re really hopeful that what they’ll come out with is a specific approach on single use items,” said Kate Trajan, the leader of strategic planning and policy with Calgary’s Waste and Recycling Services.

Trajan added that the city is already working on a single use plastic strategy that should be ready next year.

Calgary non-profit Plastic-Free YYC is thrilled with the federal announcement. The group tries to fill gaps left by the city through initiatives that could help achieve their namesake goal.

Isabelle Couture is one of the founders of Plastic Free YYC. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

“We think it’s absolutely time for the government to get on board with this global movement and more seriously look at this issue,” said Isabelle Couture with Plastic-Free YYC.

Financial factors

Alberta is a major economic player when it comes to plastic production, according to Masterson, who also said the demand for plastic has skyrocketed rather than diminished.

“The chemistry industry in Alberta is a $16 billion dollar industry that is mostly plastics-related,” he said, adding that about 8,000 workers are employed in the industry.

“The industry has about $14 billion dollars of new investments underway, all in the plastics area” said Masterson.  

“That is through the petrochemical diversification program, the energy diversification programs of the Notley government that initiated those investments.”

Alberta industry points to B.C.

Waste management is a better solution than a ban, said Masterson, who pointed to British Columbia as doing a “fantastic job” at dealing with plastic waste.

“They have a 100 per cent industry paid, industry-designed, industry-delivered, extended producer responsibility program,” he said.

“75 percent of all the material that goes in the municipal blue box  — paid for by industry not by municipal taxes — gets recycled. That’s more than five times better than the case in Alberta.”

The concept of making industry cover the costs of recycling, rather than municipalities or governments, has been put forward in Calgary before. However, it is not mandatory for manufacturers in Alberta.

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