Senate Democrats speak out in defence of Canada’s plan to ban single-use plastics

By James McCarten, The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A prominent group of Senate Democrats is speaking out in defence of Canada’s plan to ban single-use plastics. 

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy are among those expressing support for the ban, which will be phased in beginning next year. 

The ban classifies certain plastic items, including straws and carry-out bags, as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Advocates for the U.S. plastics industry say the measure is not based on science and violates the terms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

In a letter this week to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the senators insist that’s not the case, and that urgent action is not only prudent, but necessary. 

They cite research that shows 11 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans each year, ultimately poisoning marine mammals and the food chain. 

“The science on the harmfulness of single-use plastics is clear,” reads the letter, sent Monday to both Lighthizer and International Trade Minister Mary Ng. 

“If the Canadian government reasonably decides to take action to limit such plastics, we believe it is well within its rights to do so under USMCA.”

The agreement, which replaced its NAFTA predecessor earlier this year, includes language that ensures signatories can “pursue policies that are in the public interest,” and even obligates all three countries to take action on plastic litter in marine settings, the senators write. 

And while the deal does expressly forbid policies masquerading as restrictions on trade or investment, “there is no indication that is applicable in this situation.” 

In October, the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association took issue with what it called Canada’s “reckless” notion that plastics should be deemed “toxic,” insisting instead they are precisely the opposite. 

So far, however, the USTR has given no indication that it plans any action based on the industry’s concerns. 

“Pollution knows no borders. Canada welcomes the support for our commitment to ban harmful single-use plastics,” Ng said in a statement Friday. 

“As Canada has said all along, our obligations under the new NAFTA in no way prevents Canada from taking strong action to protect the environment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2020.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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