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Feds to appeal court ruling that struck down cabinet order labelling plastics toxic

OTTAWA — The federal government will appeal a recent Federal Court ruling that struck down a cabinet order underlying Ottawa's ban of some single-use plastics, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Monday. The Nov.
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Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says the federal government will appeal a Federal Court ruling which struck down a cabinet order which underlies Ottawa's ban of some single-use plastics. Guilbeault arrives for a news conference, in Ottawa, on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — The federal government will appeal a recent Federal Court ruling that struck down a cabinet order underlying Ottawa's ban of some single-use plastics, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Monday.

The Nov. 16 decision said Ottawa had overstepped by labelling all "plastic manufactured items" as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Evidence shows "thousands" of different items in that category have different uses and chemical makeups, and there is no evidence all of them can harm human health or the environment, Justice Angela Furlanetto found. 

The ruling itself did not undo the government's ban on the manufacture and import of six single-use plastics — stir sticks, straws, grocery bags, cutlery, takeout containers and six-pack beverage rings. 

The designation of toxicity is necessary for the government to regulate substances, however, so without it the federal regulations would have to be rolled back.

Guilbeault said he's determined to make sure that doesn't happen. 

"The body of scientific evidence showing the impacts on human health, on the environment, of plastic pollution is undebatable," he said. 

The government has been taking steps to eliminate plastic waste by 2030, aiming to take items that are difficult to recycle out of existence entirely, while making sure the rest are recyclable or reusable.

The existing ban on manufacturing most impacted items went into effect in December 2022, with plans to prohibit their sale next month. The manufacture of six-pack rings was banned in June, with their sale to be banned in June 2024.

The court challenge was brought by the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition, which represents plastics companies that do business in Canada, and three chemical companies that produce the materials.

The coalition has said it is "supportive" of the judge's decision.

"In the interest of Canadians who rely on plastic products that are essential to everyday life, we believe that the federal government and industry can work collaboratively to reduce plastic waste," it said in a statement.

Some municipalities and provinces have implemented their own bans on plastics, including P.E.I. and B.C. Provincial policies are not impacted by the ruling.

Furlanetto's decision left room for the government to ban just the items it wants by designating individual items as toxic, rather than manufactured plastic items as a whole.

The government chose those six items to ban, said Guilbeault, because they have alternatives on the market already and are among the most prevalent. They generally represent just three per cent of plastic waste.

In 2019 a Canadian report on plastics said over three million tonnes of plastic is thrown away each year and less than one-tenth of it is actually recycled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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