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Pandemic to push back new climate targets, plastics ban, Wilkinson says

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Canada’s national environment agenda is the latest thing to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, as plans for both beefing up national climate targets and banning some plastics are likely to be delayed.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Canadian Press this week that the government remains firmly committed to its environmental promises, which were a key part of the Liberal 2019 re-election campaign. However he acknowledged that the efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Canada will also slow the government’s ability to move on some of its environment goals.

“We’ve continued to work on a number of elements but there are some where we’ve had to delay,” Wilkinson said.

The clean fuel standard to require fuels like gasoline and diesel to burn more cleanly is being pushed back at least several months because of COVID-19. Last month the government moved the implementation date for new standards on liquid fuels like gasoline from Jan. 1, 2022, to just sometime in 2022. The proposed regulations that were to be published this spring, are not coming now until the fall.

The standard is expected to contribute about 15% of the more than 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gases Canada committed to eliminate by 2030 under the Paris climate change agreement.

But during the election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canada would go further than that and Wilkinson told the world in December that Canada’s new climate plan would be ready in time for the fall 2020 United Nations climate meetings in Scotland. That meeting, which was to be held in November, has also been a casualty of COVID-19, postponed into 2021.

Under the Paris agreement, all countries were supposed to upgrade their emissions targets this year, to bring the world more in line with what scientists say must be done to slow climate change. Thus far only seven countries have done so and Wilkinson is no longer certain Canada will produce one by the fall.

“My intention is to bring forward the updated climate plan as soon as it is reasonable to do that,” he said. “Right now we need to be focused on fighting the virus but certainly our intention and our commitment to the climate file remains very firm.”

He said the same commitment exists when it comes to single use plastics, but the virus is also intruding on that plan. In January, Environment Canada issued a draft scientific assessment confirming plastics are harmful to the environment, which was the first step towards the goal to begin banning some products. At that time, Wilkinson said the ban would absolutely begin in 2021.

But the government extended the required comment period on the scientific report by 30 days last month. It closed May 1 instead of April 1.

Wilkinson said the intention to move on a plastics ban remains but said he can’t say when.

“That is another one that has been a little bit affected by the pandemic,” said Wilkinson.

“It’s very difficult to know exactly how this is all going to sort itself out given the uncertainty of the times but we do intend to move forward on the plastics ban.”

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics campaign for Greenpeace Canada, said she is hopeful any delay will be minimal.

“We have been waiting for a long time to see the words and the election promises turn to action,” said King. “Obviously, a delay is problematic because every day that goes by, every week that goes by, every month that goes by, billions of pieces of plastic are entering our market. This is something that we need to urgently deal with.”


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Quebec to expand deposit system to cover all drink containers by 2022

Quebec will expand its deposit system to include different kinds of alcohol and beverage containers in an effort to recycle more products and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

The province announced its plan Thursday – set to begin by late 2022 – that will see a deposit charged to a wide variety of containers ranging in size from 100 millilitres to two litres, whether the bottles are made of plastic, glass or metal.

The government intends for a simple system that shouldn’t require too much of consumers to change their habits, with an estimated 400 privately run drop-off points, said Environment Minister Benoit Charrette.

“In one depot or one store, where the technology will be available, they will be able to bring back all their materials,” Charrette said in St-Sauveur, Que., where the Coalition Avenir Quebec are holding a caucus meeting.

“We want the system as simple of possible because we need results, and the industry has a lot of interest to put in place a simple system because they will have to respect some specific goals as soon as 2025.”

The plan is to charge 25 cents for wine and spirits bottles and 10 cents for other bottles, including plastic water bottles, fruit juices and milk jugs.

Officials project more than four billion containers will be returned annually, including more than one billion plastic water bottles.

Recyc-Quebec, a government corporation, will oversee the implementation of the new returnable container recovery system, but the companies that market the containers will have to present a deposit management plan within a year.

Quebec will aim to recover and recycle 75% of returnable containers by 2025 and 90% by 2030, with the government establishing targets and penalties if they’re not reached.

The announcement was applauded by environmental groups including Equiterre, which said the expansion of the system make sense for environmental, social and economic reasons.

“As we seek to move towards a circular economy, a deposit refund system helps us view used containers as resources rather than waste,” said executive director Colleen Thorpe. “By transforming perceptions and habits, we can help reintegrate these items into the manufacturing cycle by sorting at the source, which in turn makes these resources more valuable.”

Greenpeace Canada said beer bottle collection has shown to be beneficial and welcome the plan, but the group urged the Legault government to fight against single-use plastic and seek more ambitious measures like banning water bottles.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has repeatedly raised concerns about expanding the deposit system, said it believes curbside recycling already in place is the best for recovering single-use beverage containers, though it will participate in the design of the new system.

The Quebec Union of Municipalities applauded the measure but urged a reform of the entire recovery and recycling system in Quebec, with a focus on making producers responsible.

It also expressed support for the province as it navigates a waste-management crisis involving collection and sorting services affecting 26 municipalities.

Groupe RSC, a subsidiary of French firm TIRU, announced it would be pulling out of operations in four plants it operates across the province – two in the Montreal area, one in Chateauguay and another in Saguenay – “due to the collapse of the world market for recycled paper.”

The company has said it has encountered “great difficulties linked to the economic model of its sorting centres” with financial losses in recent years.

The Quebec government said this week the facilities will maintain operations in the short term until new operators can be found.