Skip to content

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

Bill to Amend--Second Reading--Debate Adjourned

April 7, 2022

Moved second reading of Bill S-234, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (final disposal of plastic waste).

He said: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to my bill, Bill S-234, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (final disposal of plastic waste).

To recall the words of Senator Frum, who spoke to the precursor to this bill in the last Parliament, what it does is to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to prohibit the export of plastic waste for final disposal from Canada to any foreign country.

In effect, Canada would no longer send any of its plastic waste to a foreign country unless it will be recycled or otherwise reused.

I should specify that the list of plastics in schedule 7 was designed so that it can be amended by order in council if necessary. In addition, the penalties set out in the law would apply to any individual or corporation violating the law.

As those of you who were here will recall, this bill was first introduced in the last Parliament as C-204 and made it as far as second reading in the Senate.

It was sent over to us in June 2021 with the full support of the Bloc, the NDP, the Greens and, of course, the Conservatives. We were also led to believe at that time that many Liberal MPs quietly supported it as well.

They are the elected members, honourable senators, and it bears keeping that in mind as we consider this successor bill as it is identical to the bill that arrived here last June as amended by the committee in the House.

This also means that I have the opportunity to comment on the bill after hearing speeches by numerous speakers in both houses. That is why I can state with certainty that if there is one thing everyone agrees on, it is the fact that getting rid of plastic waste is a problem, a big problem.

I would like to share what Senator Gold, who opposed the bill in the previous Parliament, said about it, and I quote:

 . . . the world is facing a challenge with managing plastic waste responsibly. Challenges in domestic management of large volumes of plastic waste often result in releases to the environment or landfilling, posing a serious global environmental problem and lost economic opportunity. There is simply no denying that reality.

Senator Gold is right. Although this is a global problem, it is mainly present in the developing world. As our former colleague, Senator Frum, pointed out in her speech on the predecessor to Bill S-234, only 0.03% of plastic waste is mismanaged in Canada. That is a minuscule number compared to countries such as Turkey, which accounts for 1.53% of mismanaged plastic waste; Vietnam, 5.76%; Malaysia, 2.95%; Thailand, 3.23%; and India, 1.88%.

Senator Frum pointed out that these are small percentages individually, but they add up to a significant percentage, and in each case are all orders of magnitude higher than Canada.

From another perspective, according to Our World in Data, Canada mismanaged 23,587 tonnes of plastic waste in 2019. That seems like an enormous amount, but countries such as the United Kingdom and France, which are geographically the size of a small Canadian province, mismanaged 29,914 tonnes and 27,780 tonnes of plastic waste respectively in 2019. Spain mismanaged about 20,000 tonnes.

These numbers are a far cry from what is happening in the developing world, just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain on the African continent. Morocco, for instance, inadequately manages more than 10 times as much plastic waste as Canada, or 295,000 tonnes in 2019. Algeria has 764,578 tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste; Egypt a staggering 1.44 million tonnes; the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1.37 million tonnes; and what can we say about Tanzania, with 1.72 million tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste?

Turning to South America, Chile mismanaged 30,767 tonnes of plastic waste in 2019. In neighbouring Argentina, the figure was nearly 500,000 tonnes that year. Brazil, meanwhile, South America’s largest country, which is just a little smaller than Canada, mismanaged a staggering 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2019.

Lastly, there is Asia, as the sponsor of the previous version of Bill S-234 noted in the other place. From 2015 to 2018, Canada sent nearly 400,000 tonnes of plastic waste to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Hong Kong, China and the United States.

If we look at the most recent data on mismanaged plastic waste in these countries, we see that Thailand mismanaged 1.36 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2019; Malaysia, 814,454 tonnes; Vietnam, 1.11 million tonnes; India, 12.99 million tonnes; and China, 12.27 million tonnes.

Honourable senators, the speeches from Senator Frum and Scot Davidson informed us that China, which used to be a destination of choice for plastic waste, banned imports of this material at the end of 2017. Canada simply turned to other countries in Southeast Asia and the developing world to handle its plastic waste.

Even though the Trudeau government adopted a zero plastic waste policy in Canada — bearing in mind that our plastic waste accounts for a minuscule part of the global problem and only 0.03% is mismanaged — it just exported the problem to those parts of the world where plastic waste is mismanaged the most.

While the government brags that its Oceans Protection Plan makes Canada a world leader in ocean protection, we continue to ship plastic waste to parts of the world that are the primary sources of the plastic pollution dumped into our oceans.

Do you want to know where the plastic polluting our oceans comes from? Well, it comes from our rivers. A project called The Ocean Cleanup estimates that 1,000 rivers are responsible for 80% of the plastic in our oceans. None of those rivers is in Canada, and only one is in North America. The rest are in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America.

What about the rivers that transport the most plastic waste to our oceans? The vast majority of them are in Asia, and some are in East Africa and the Caribbean. The 10 rivers responsible for dumping the most plastic pollution into our oceans are all in Asia. Seven of them are in the Philippines, accounting for more than 10% of the plastic that rivers dump into oceans, two are in India, and one is in Malaysia.

Consequently, prohibiting the use of plastic straws in Canada contributes nothing to solving the problem of plastic pollution. That is a perfect example of virtue signalling, a great example of a government that does something not because it is hard, but because it is easy. The government is twisting the famous words uttered by John F. Kennedy when he explained why the United States would launch a mission to the moon.

What’s more, by giving the false impression that we are helping to resolve a problem, we are making it worse. We are doing the same thing when we draw people’s attention away from the hard work required to solve the real problem in places such as Asia, which is the source of 81% of all plastic that ends up in the ocean. Yet that is where we are sending our plastic waste, while banning the use of plastic straws in Canada.

Some will say, as others already have, that Canada signed and ratified the Basel Convention, which, through amendments made in 2019 to Annexes II, VIII and IX, added plastic to the list of imported or exported hazardous waste covered by the treaty. According to that argument, the thing that the bill seeks to make Canada do is something that Canada is already doing pursuant to the Basel Convention. Therefore, Bill S-234 would be redundant.

This type of reasoning stands in stark contrast to the arguments used to defend Bill C-15 on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which received Royal Assent on June 21, 2021. In that case, rather than seeing Bill C-15 as redundant, the government argued that it was important because it enshrined in Canadian law the fact that Canada was adhering to the UN Declaration. Also, it is worth noting that the list of plastics in Schedule 7 to Bill S-234 is taken from Annex IV, section B, of the Basel Convention and that Bill S-234 improves on the Basel Convention by closing the “loophole” that allows Canada to export plastic waste to the U.S.

This significantly strengthens our obligations under the Basel Convention, as recent events have demonstrated. According to a Canadian Press article published early this month, and I quote:

In the year since new rules to slow global exports of plastic waste took effect, Canada’s shipments rose by more than 13 per cent, and most of it is going to the United States with no knowledge of where it ultimately ends up.

The Basel Convention does not prevent these shipments. Bill S-234 does.

The Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, recognizes that there is a problem and has been critical of Canada’s lackadaisical approach to exports of plastic waste. He said that Canada “clearly has to do better.” I agree with him, which does not happen often.

Between 2017 and 2019, Canada was sending more than 60,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year to the United States. In 2020, that increased by more than 83,000 tonnes. Some will say that this plastic was on its way to be recycled, but we do not actually know where this waste ends up. The United States has not signed the Basel Convention. As stated in the Canadian Press article:

The agreement [between Canada and the United States] is allowed under Basel rules, but because the U.S. is not bound by the convention, it can do what it likes with the waste, including shipping it anywhere else it wants.

Honourable senators, Canada has long been a laggard when it comes to plastic waste. In fact, Canada became famous for this in 2019 when it got into a diplomatic dispute with the Philippines over garbage shipped to that country that had been falsely labelled as plastic waste destined for recycling. Such was the outrage of the Philippines’s president that he threatened Canada with war over it.

Fortunately, war with the Philippines was averted, but it was very embarrassing when 69 containers filled with waste arrived at the Port of Vancouver in 2019.

That same year, Malaysia protested against waste being sent to the country and demanded that Canada, the United States, France, Japan, Australia and Great Britain take back some 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste.

Allow me to repeat what I said earlier. Eight of the top ten rivers responsible for transporting plastic waste to our oceans are in the Philippines and Malaysia. When MP Scot Davidson spoke to his bill prohibiting the export of plastic waste, he very explicitly described the situation in Malaysia and referred to an episode of CBC’s Marketplace. He said that the episode, and I quote:

 . . . highlighted the conditions of the small northern Malaysia village of Ipoh, which had become a primary destination for the processing of Canadian plastic waste. The report describes towering heaps of burning plastic garbage, chemical and microplastic runoff polluting local waterways, and mounds of poorly contained Canadian plastic. The residents of Ipoh were outraged by the invasion of foreign plastic waste and the impact it was having on their health and the local environment. Pleading, they said, “We don’t want to be the next cancer village.” This is just one example of a situation that is becoming all too common.

I do not want minimize the efforts that developing countries are making or blame anyone whatsoever. As Mr. Davidson pointed out, many developing countries are now rejecting plastic imports from abroad, having struggled to properly manage the sheer quantity of plastics coming from around the world since China’s ban took effect.

It was only after the national embarrassment caused by the incidents in the Philippines and Malaysia that the current government decided to ratify the amendments to the Basel Convention. I would like to point out that 98 other countries ratified this convention before our so-called global leader on plastic pollution did so.

Honourable senators, some countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, have already adopted legislation similar to the bill before us. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and certain EU countries, are considering bills similar to Bill S-234. However, the Liberal government has opposed these measures at every stage of the legislative process, choosing instead to grandstand about banning plastic straws and single-use plastics in this country.

The time has come to have this chamber pass a law. We often hear that we must bend to the will of elected officials. Well, it is the will of the majority in the other place to pass this bill. As I mentioned, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, the Green Party and the Conservative Party supported this bill in its previous iteration.

In her speech at second reading of Bill C-204, Bloc Québécois MP Monique Pauzé excoriated the government and condemned its lack of integrity on the international stage with respect to the management of plastic waste. I quote:

 . . . before even considering exporting its plastic waste, Canada has a duty to rethink how materials circulate in the economy. Canada must do the work here first and take the necessary steps to ensure that materials are managed properly in order to stop the reprehensible act of dumping. There is nothing acceptable, either morally or otherwise, about sending our waste to India, Thailand or Taiwan. . . .

Ms. Pauzé added:

Banning six single-use plastic products was necessary, but it is not the most ambitious move. It is a drop in the bucket of what we should be doing to properly manage plastic waste.

NDP MP Laurel Collins also criticized the government’s slow approach to reducing plastic waste exports. She said, and I quote:

 . . . the Liberals have been dragging their feet. They were previously dismissive of the idea of banning plastic waste exports entirely. Only after Australia planned to ban plastic waste exports in 2019, did the Liberals say they would look at what else Canada could do to reduce the amount of Canadian garbage that is ending up overseas.

The Liberals initially, as I mentioned, refused to sign on to the important amendments to the Basel Convention. Parties to the convention agreed by consensus to the amendments in 2019, but Canada continued to fight against these important amendments. When it was formally notified by the United Nations in March 2020 that Canada’s laws would not be in compliance, the government asked for continuous delays.

Honourable senators, clearly the majority of elected members in the House support this bill and wish it to become law. The only ones who don’t — who say it is redundant, given our Basel commitments — are the Liberals.

I would like to conclude my speech with a quote from James Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, who testified in 2021 before the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment about Mr. Davidson’s bill:

It’s appropriate, in our view, to consider the U.S. and Canada together in this mess, because late last year the Canadian and U.S. governments secretly concluded a deal to ignore the Basel Convention’s recent decision to control trade in contaminated and mixed plastics. Rather, the two countries wanted to allow the trade between them to remain opaque and uncontrolled.

This bilateral pact was condemned by the Center for International Environmental Law, as it ignores Canada’s obligations under the Basel Convention. Further, it allows Canadian traders to use the United States, which is not a party to the Basel Convention, as a pivot point to export Canadian plastic waste via U.S. ports to Asia, thus undermining Canada’s requirements under the convention.

Colleagues, this bill may not solve the problem of mismanagement of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, but it is a legislative statement, and it does improve on our obligations under the Basel Convention. I hope you will agree to refer it to a committee for further study for the good of our oceans. Thank you.

Back to top