26 June 2023

Where does our plastic waste go?

In this article, authors Sophie Bernard, Full Professor at Polytechnique Montréal and Julien Martin, Full Professor at ESG-UQAM, both CIRANO Researchers and Fellows, and Florence Lapointe, Master's student at Polytechnique Montréal, use available data to report on the Canadian trade in plastic waste over the last 20 years, showing a bleak picture.

They also highlight the fact that, in the absence of relevant data, it's often not possible to draw an accurate picture of the situation, and so many questions remain unanswered. 

Study highlights :

  • In 2022, Canadian exports of plastic waste amounted to 175 thousand tonnes.
  • Following China' s ban on plastic waste imports at the end of 2017—the National Sword—a large proportion of Canada's exports to China were absorbed by the US: the share of exports to the US rose from 50% in 2016 to 93% in 2021.
  • The impact of China's ban has been very different from one province to another: between 2016 and 2021, plastic waste exports fell by 70% in British Columbia, 10% in Ontario and 4% in Quebec. Waste management policies probably have something to do with this.
  • Today, Canada imports more plastic waste than it exports. 95% of imports come from the United States.

At the end of the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution in Paris at the beginning of June, the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change stated that Canada is committed to negotiating a legally binding and ambitious international agreement to end plastic pollution and that fighting plastic pollution starts at home. In this context, this study is highly relevant.