Banning single-use plastics and enabling circular economy strategies

Supplementary information in support of the Green Budget Coalition Recommendation for Budget 2020.

There is an immediate need to address the global plastic pollution problem that threatens the marine environment and the Great Lakes.1 Tackling plastic pollution also represents an opportunity to reorient the economy toward circularity.

Regulatory bans will prompt a shift to alternatives, and targeted business innovation funds can help drive innovation and overcome remaining economic barriers for some applications. Also, businesses should be made responsible for the waste their products generate through Extended Producer Responsibility requirements. These complementary measures will help promote more sustainable materials, designs and systems,2 and begin to address overproduction, overconsumption and waste.

 To achieve a federal ban on non-essential, single-use plastics by 2021 (aligning with the timeline in the EU) the Green Budget Coalition recommends ECCC list them on Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act without delay, move quickly to finalize a comprehensive regulation and launch a public education initiative starting in 2020. 

We also recommend establishing a matching fund to support zero-waste business development, modelled on the proposal for a Canadian Matching Fund to support high-potential SMEs.3 Similar eligibility criteria could be applied, alongside a “zero-waste innovation” lens. Strategic investments by government can help promote innovation and position Canada to become a world leader in zero-waste solutions. A matching fund can leverage private capital to stretch the return on public investment. 

We further recommend that Budget 2020 provide funds for mapping pathways to a circular economy (one that is regenerative by design) to support evidence-based decision-making on opportunities and priorities for improving circularity. This should include mapping the entire plastics economy (imports and production, use, disposal/recycling) and developing metrics in the market, to support the development of effective Extended Producer requirements.

Finally, we recommend funding to extend and expand DFO’s Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program, which aims to reduce and recover abandoned fishing gear and promote truly biodegradable alternatives. “Ghost gear” is a major contributor to ocean plastics and one of the deadliest threats to ocean animals. In August 2019, the Government of Canada committed $8.3 million over two years (2020-2022), to assist fish harvesters, environmental groups, Indigenous communities, the aquaculture industry and coastal communities to find and retrieve harmful ghost gear from the ocean and dispose of it responsibly. This is encouraging and the program will need to be extended and expanded, as part of a target-based strategy for ghost gear prevention and recovery. The EU allocated 53 million euros (about C$77.8 million) for the period 2014-2020 to support prevention and recovery of ghost gear.4 The proposed directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment includes complementary Extended Producer Responsibility and awareness-raising measures. A proportional and sustained level of investment is needed in Canada to do our share to help solve the global ghost gear problem. We recommend that Budget 2020 invest in a target-based strategy that builds on the Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program and includes Extended Producer Responsibility requirements.

Recommended investment: 

  • $60 million over five years for ECCC to deliver public education and compliance promotion initiatives to support implementation of a regulatory ban on single-use plastics. Budget 2018 provided a similar level of resources for public education initiatives in connection with the legalization of cannabis. Although the context differs, a parallel investment will be needed, starting in 2020, to promote awareness about the forthcoming regulatory regime for single-use plastics. This will help communities and businesses across the country prepare for compliance. 
  • $500 million to establish a matching fund, managed by ISED, to support zero-waste business investment.
  • $5 million for ECCC and Statistics Canada to map pathways to a circular economy including mapping the plastics economy.
  • $8.3 million over four years for DFO to develop and implement a target-based strategy for ghost gear prevention including extended producer responsibility for fishing gear and recovery, building on the Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program.


Lisa Gue
Sarah King
Gretchen Fitzgerald
Vito Buonsante
Shannon Arnold

  1. Inter alia: Marine Litter Vital Graphics report 2016
  2. In particular, a shift away from disposable packaging to reuse and refill-centred product delivery models will have better environmental outcomes – even compared to compostable packaging, for example.
  3. Advisory Council on Economic Growth, Unlocking Innovation to Drive Scale and Growth, February 6, 2017
  4. Through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund