Big Topic

The backroom battle between industry, Ottawa and environmentalists over plastics regulation

Canada's $28-billion plastics industry has always resisted efforts to curtail production. But with the federal government looking to classify plastic as toxic, the pushback has grown even greater.

When elementary school students showed up at Victoria city council meetings asking for a ban on plastic bags, the B.C. city’s mayor, Lisa Helps, knew it was time to listen.

“The ban started with (the) students,” Helps says. “But then we spent a good couple years working with our business community … it was everyone working together.”

Almost as soon as the ban took effect in 2018, the city was hit with a jurisdictional lawsuit by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, a lobby group that later merged into the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada’s plastics division. The lawsuit fizzled when the provincial government changed B.C. law to allow municipalities to control waste and local environmental issues. But the case was indicative of a decades-long effort by the plastics industry on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to stop regulations that might cut into their bottom lines. 

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