Three companies produce almost all of the plastic that is made in Canada: NOVA Chemicals, Dow and Imperial Oil. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are the very same companies leading a coalition that filed a shocking lawsuit against the federal government last week suing them for taking action to tackle plastic pollution.

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Big Plastic wants to stop the federal government from regulating plastics under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). They insist on the virtue of their product while blaming others, namely individuals (all of us!) and municipal waste systems, for the havoc that plastics wreak on our environment. If they win, we all lose.

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This coalition filed the lawsuit a day after a new report revealed that only 20 companies worldwide produce more than half of the plastic that ends up as throwaway packaging. U.S.-based Dow and ExxonMobil, the parent company of Imperial Oil (which also licenses the Esso and Mobil brands in Canada), are ranked #1 and #2 on the global Plastic Waste Makers Index of plastic producers. NOVA is #21.

The Index reports that Dow contributed 5.9 million tonnes to single-use plastic waste around the world in 2019 alone. ExxonMobil’s share was 5.6 million tonnes  and NOVA’s was 1.2 million tonnes that same year. No amount of  “innovative management or recycling” that Big Plastic is pushing as an alternative to reduced production and use can address this waste tsunami. 

Research commissioned by the federal government shows that, together, Dow and ExxonMobil/Imperial are expected to produce up to 1.75 million tonnes of polyethylene in Canada in 2021. NOVA, Canada’s biggest producer, is expected to approach 2.5 million tonnes. Polyethylene is made from fossil fuels and is the most widely used plastic polymer in Canada, though the vast majority of what’s produced here is exported – mostly to the U.S. – for further manufacturing. The rest stays in Canada to be turned into things like single-use plastic bags, food packaging, cutlery, toys and plastic piping. 

As much as half of this plastic will be used once and thrown away. Overall, less than 10 per cent of it will be recycled. Waste streams will continue to be contaminated by non-recyclable, non-reusable and non-compostable plastics that will end up buried in landfills, in some cases burned in incinerators and even dumped directly in the environment. This plastic waste harms wildlife, ecosystems and eventually… us. In Canada alone, some 8,000 tonnes of plastic are thrown away every day.

Instead of taking responsibility for the damage their products inflict around the world, Big Plastic has opted for blocking all action to manage plastic waste – to increase their bottom line through massive expansion plans. Canada now finds itself on the front lines of a war waged by lawyers and public relations flacks on behalf of some of the biggest companies in the world. 

We can’t let them win this battle. Like tobacco and asbestos before them, the plastics industry, and the rest of their fossil fuel brethren, will ultimately be forced to change. 

In the meantime, it’s essential that the government vigorously defends Canadians against Big Plastic in court, even as it moves ahead with regulations under CEPA to reign in plastic pollution. We hope to see regulations to ban six single-use plastic items by summer.