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Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister of Canada, states that Canada must do more for plastic waste export control
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Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister of Canada, states that Canada must do more for plastic waste export control

Canada must do more to control plastic waste exports, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, speaks during Question Period at the House of Commons in Ottawa on February 28, 2022.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Canada’s plastic waste shipments increased by more than 13% in the year that new rules were implemented to limit global exports. Most of the plastic waste is headed to the United States without knowing where it ends up.

Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister said that this lackadaisical approach for exporting plastic trash must be stopped.

Guilbeault stated in an interview that he was very concerned about the situation.

We should make sure that we are recycling plastics when we ship them. And honestly, it’s not clear that this is always true. In fact, there have been several instances when it wasn’t.

Guilbeault stated he is currently talking to his officials about how to fix the problem. Right now, they are not doing a very good work.

Canada’s history of plastic waste exports has been criticized internationally. In 2019, shipments of garbage that were falsely labeled as plastics for recycling led the country to a diplomatic dispute with the Philippines.

It brought to light the global garbage trade, which saw rich countries placing their garbage on containers bound for the developing world. The trash ends up in landfills or being burned, creating a host of health and environmental problems.

Canada responded to that embarrassment by pledging to work with the Canada Border Services Agency in order to stop the export of contaminated plastic. It also agreed to amend the United Nations Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste that added mixed plastic waste to the substances that were covered by the conventions rules.

This would imply that Canada will be unable to export waste to any other convention member countries after Jan. 1, 2021. Canada would need to have prior informed consent from the import country and confirmation as to how the waste was disposed of.

However, Canada quietly signed an accord with the United States that allowed free flow of plastics between the two countries a few months prior to the amendments becoming effective. The agreement was made even though the United States is not a party the Basel Convention. The agreement is permitted under Basel rules. But, because the U.S. does not have to adhere to the convention, it can do whatever it likes with the plastic waste, including shipping it elsewhere.

The Basel Action Network has collected trade data that shows that more than 340,000,000 kilograms of plastic waste were exported by the U.S. in 2021 to only four countries: India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Vietnam.

Kathleen Ruff, who heads Right On Canada and opposes the export of any hazardous waste, called Canada-U. S. agreement is a huge loophole that violates Basel Convention. It allows us to export large amounts of plastic and other hazardous waste to the U.S. without any controls to stop our wastes being shipped to developing countries.

She said that this is not the leadership in environmental issues we were promised.

The Basel Convention’s plastic amendments were designed to reduce total plastic waste exports. However, Canada’s plastic waste shipments rose by 13% to 170,000,000 kilograms in the 12 months following the amendments were implemented. This is roughly the same weight as 17 billion half-litre plastic containers.

Its shipments to America totaled 158 millions kilograms, an increase by 16 per cent over 2020 and 92% of its total exports.

The total for 2021 is the highest since 2017, when nearly 200 kilograms were exported. Less than 60% of that was to the U.S.

Gord Johns, Vancouver Island NDP MP, successfully passed a motion for a national strategy to combat plastic pollution. He said Canada’s record on plastic pollution was horrendous.

He stated that Guilbeault would sign the full Basel Convention Amendment to ban the export of hazardous materials, including plastics, if Guilbeault cares about plastic waste. This would be done with or without the consent from an importing country.

Canada is not one of the 188 Basel Convention Parties that have ratified this amendment.

He said that Canada is not bound to the amendment unless it joins the 100 other countries that have accepted it. It is now illegal to export hazardous waste to developing countries from Canada under the amendment. I suppose the question is: Why does Canada refuse to join other countries?

This content was provided to The Globe by The Globe’s originating wire service. Globe staff has not edited it.

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