Does the plastic ban affect Alberta or not?

As the federal government made good on a 2019 platform promise to join more than 100 countries around the world who have implemented bans on single-use plastics, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the provincial government will ensure its jurisdiction is respected.

“As we announced in our natural gas vision yesterday, part of our recovery plan in Alberta is to incent and to bring in more petrochemical activity that includes manufacturing plastics,” she said Wednesday morning.

“We would say that is Alberta’s jurisdiction – it’s a key part of our economic recovery strategy. So we’ll be following that announcement from the federal government and each and every announcement to ensure that it doesn’t infringe on our constitutional jurisdiction and ensure it doesn’t infringe on our ability to recover our economy.”

The federal single-use plastic ban includes a whopping six items: grocery check-out bags, plastic straws, six-pack rings, restaurant food containers (“made of hard-to-recycle plastic), and plastic cutlery.

So, does it affect Alberta’s ability to achieve economic recovery?

In 2019, when the federal government announced its platform promise to ban single-use plastics, industry reception in the province was positive.

Isabelle Des Chenes, executive vice-president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), told the The Star in 2019 that the proposals were expected and are generally supported by the sector.

Ashish Chitalia, principal analyst for polyolefins for consultancy Wood Mackenzie, also added that the proposed ban would have more of an effect on end-product manufacturers in Eastern Canada, the volumes of material needed to produce the products proposed for the ban were “small” and unlikely to affect either the raw materials (oil, gas, and other natural resource extraction) or current industrial manufacturers in Western provinces.

In 2018, groups representing Canada’s plastics industries had already announced “a target to make 100 per cent of plastics packaging recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and to have 100 per cent of plastics packaging being reused, recycled or recovered by 2040” The Star reported.

In what has become a typical response that is hugely contradictory to what industry is doing, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his government had “no interest” in banning plastic bags in the province. His government, he said was “trying to attract investment”, not add red tape.

Trying to attract investment based on the production of items that had, by 2018, already been banned in 127 countries may seem out of touch, but it’s part and parcel for Jason Kenney’s backward-looking government.

In January of this year, at the Alberta Industrial Heartland Association’s stakeholder meeting, Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, said that industry was responsible for finding a way to stop their products from being one and done.

“The industry is exceptionally worried about plastic waste and what it means for the current business model, Let’s be honest with ourselves, the days of making plastic out of scarce natural resources, using them once and very, very briefly at that, and then disposing them into a landfill or into the environment – those days are coming to an end, quickly,” Masterson said.

Masterson added that B.C.’s Recycle B.C. program charges a fee to businesses who produce additional plastic waste that doesn’t get recycled but said municipalities won’t be the ones making the investments needed to actually recycle the waste we currently produce.

“The only people that can do that, who can create those markets, is industry,” he said in January.

Sarah Marshall, director of sustainability for Dow Chemical Corporation agreed, telling the Edmonton Journal that the ban wouldn’t greatly affect Alberta’s industry.

“The government’s talking, for example, about harmonizing extended producer responsibility across Canada,” she said.

“And what that means is that the industry that puts plastic products on the market also takes responsibility for those plastic products after they are used. And then that way, what we see across different geographies, like British Columbia, like the EU, is you can get much higher collection and recycling rates for plastics.”

Masterson, on the other hand, appears to no longer see the recycling of plastics as an opportunity.

“I can tell you we’ve heard from global companies and the premier of Alberta has heard from global companies, that this will make them think carefully about their plans, any plans, they might have to invest Alberta. So it’s a pretty real concern,” Masterson said according to the Edmonton Journal.

As Alberta’s Heartland Petrochemical facility has seen more than half of its $3.5 billion investment spent on the project over the past two years, and impacted businesses are saying it is unlikely to affect them, the idea that investment may be stalled – in the province whose corporate tax rate rivals the bottom of the barrel in North America – due to a ban on six plastic items seems ridiculous.

In a province bleeding doctors, services, credibility, and revenue, a lack of plastic bags at check-out and plastic cutlery will not be the final straw for investment decisions.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political commentator physically distancing in Southern Alberta.

Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, @thisweekinAB for posts, @politicalRnD for something in the middle.

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