Canadian Packaging

Single-Use Plastics Ban a Real Political Hot Potato

George Guidoni   

Politics and packaging are generally not a good mix. And with the federal ban on single-use plastics like clamshell containers, lidded containers, cartons, cups, plates and bowls made from extruded or expanded polystyrene foam, polyvinyl chloride and oxo-degradable plastics, scheduled to come into force on Dec. 20, 2025, many companies in the Canadian fresh-produce industry are quickly coming to grips with the realization that time is not on their side.

When Ottawa’s Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations went into effect in late 2022, the initial reaction to it by Canadian industry and consumers was fairly muted, as anxiety over the global COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news cycle to the extent of relegating all other public policy developments to the back burner. But with the pandemic now just a passing bad memory, many of the festering issues that were overlooked at the height of the health crisis are now coming to a full boil.

While one would think that given the exceptional role that single-use plastic played in containing and moderating the spread of the Coronavirus in Canada and abroad would provide an opportunity to reassess the growing anti-plastic backlash and hostility, the Liberal government has shown absolutely no willingness to compromise on the issue in fear of the potential electoral backlash such backtracking would invite in the next federal election.

This reluctance to engage in more constructive engagement with the industry to work out a more feasible implementation date, or to allow for certain exemptions where outright plastics substitution is impossible or even harmful, is sending panic waves throughout the fresh-produce supply chain, according to the Canadian Fresh Produce Marketing Association (CPMA).


For CPMA’s packaging specialist, Daniel Duguay, the government legislative push to make 95 per cent of fresh produce sold in Canada to be sold in bulk or plastic-free packaging by 2028 is a “wrong-headed” approach that will do far more harm than good for the industry, consumers and, in a bigger picture, the very cause of sustainability and circularity that the government claims to champion and safeguard.

“That, for all intents and purposes, is not possible without there being some very dramatic impacts of in terms of food safety, affordability and availability,” Duguay told Canadian Packaging in a recent exclusive interview.

Not only would such a ban have an immediate negative affect on the already high inflationary pricing, according to Duguay, but it will also create an unnecessary new obstacle to global trade in fresh fruits and vegetables by curtailing Canada’s imports of such products.

“For every five dollars spent on produce by Canadians, about four dollars go to the purchase of imported products,” Duguay points out. “So if we have a packaging requirement in Canada that is unique to Canada alone, it will really isolate Canada in terms of accessing a lot of the produce grown worldwide.

“This is clearly something that needs to be corrected,” says Duguay, urging the government to put the ban implementation on hold until reaching a greater level of accommodation with the industry and its stakeholders.

“Such a pause would give Ottawa an opportunity to understand the issue better and to make the required corrections,” Duguay states.

According to CPMA president Ron Lemaire, Ottawa’s single-minded obsession with making Canada a world leader in environmental sustainability willfully ignores the economic reality faced by produce companies in the current high-inflation environment, while drawing wrong conclusions by trying to replicate similar measures passed in some European countries.

Since the French government first introduced its own ban on plastic packaging for fresh produce over a year ago, for example, it has introduced some 29 exemptions for various types of produce that depend on plastic packaging for extended shelf-life and product freshness.

So while admitting past mistakes may not be a comfortable thought for a government fashioning itself as environmental trailblazer, getting things right from the outset is much preferable to trying to rectify past mistakes and the economic damage they caused with the benefit of hindsight.


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Category Captains 2024