02/05/2020 09:53 EST | Updated 02/05/2020 14:04 EST

Tory MP Wants To Stop Canada From Sending Its Plastic Garbage Overseas

Scot Davidson thinks the issue of plastic pollution “shouldn’t be a partisan thing.”

A heron hunts for food as the ship Anna Maersk is docked at Roberts Bank port carrying 69 containers of mostly paper and plastic waste returned by the Philippines in Vancouver on June 29, 2019.

OTTAWA — Conservative MP Scot Davidson says he will introduce a private member’s bill to stop the export of Canadian plastic waste from being dumped or landfilled in foreign countries. 

The York–Simcoe MP told HuffPost Canada his bill will look to amend “final disposal” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to prohibit domestic plastic garbage, that can’t be recycled, from ending up as hazardous waste in other countries.

“We should be responsible for our own plastic waste,” he said. “There’s no excuse. You can’t just keep kicking the can down the road.” 

There’s plenty of room for improvement in waste diversion rates for recyclables. In 2016, only nine per cent of plastic waste produced by Canadians was recycled.

Watch: Malaysia sends back 150 containers of plastic waste. Story continues below slideshow.


China’s decision to ban most plastic waste imports in 2018 continues to be a factor in how waste is managed in Canada. The ban forced Canadian recyclers to look for other markets to take their recyclables. Canada’s plastic waste exports increased that year to Malaysia, India, Thailand, and Taiwan, according to Statistics Canada.

Davidson said his aim isn’t to stop recyclable plastics from being exported to countries with “solid recycling capabilities.” His goal is to reduce the odds that Canadian plastic waste will be “landfilled or, quite frankly, dumped in the ocean” at their final destination, the Ontario MP said.

Eroded by weather and the environment into smaller and smaller microplastic pieces, plastics can take hundreds of years to break down. Concerns have arisen over plastics and microplastics ending up in groundwater or waterways, and in the stomachs of marine animals.

“My wife is First Nations. We’ve lived on Lake Simcoe all our life,” Davidson said. “Lakes and rivers are very important to me.”

In December, the former businessman and entrepreneur’s name was drawn fifth in the private member’s bill lottery held at the beginning of the new parliamentary session. MPs lucky enough to nab early spots in the draw bode a better chance of having their bills move through Parliament to possibly become law.

ParlVu screengrab
Conservative MP Scot Davidson rises to speak in the House of Commons on Jan. 28, 2020.

Davidson recognizes his luck. He said he didn’t want to squarder his shot at trying to “bite off a big issue” as a federal politician. He said he hopes to have his private member’s bill introduced before the end of the month.

Government says regulatory changes made in 2016

The issue has been percolating into mainstream discourse in recent years after high-profile cases of Canadian companies caught exporting shipping containers of trash to South Asian countries.

These cases have put Canada under international scrutiny for violating provisions of the Basel Convention, an international treaty that set rules on the movement and disposal of hazardous waste across boundaries over bodies of water.

Canada signed the convention in 1989. It was ratified in 1992.

The federal government has previously dismissed calls to introduce a ban on all plastic waste exports, saying shipments since have 2016 required export permits on items considered “hazardous.”

Lai Seng Sin / Reuters
Plastic waste are piled outside an illegal recycling factory in Jenjarom, Kuala Langat, Malaysia on Oct. 14, 2018. 

“We changed our regulations to comply with international obligations and strengthened controls of our exports,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons in May.

Despite the government saying no permits have been issued since regulations changed, shipping containers full of Canadian plastic waste have continued arriving in countries that deem those contents “hazardous.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson Gabrielle Lamontagne said the Statistics Canada data “shows multiple types of plastics waste, which may or may not be subject to controls.”

Lamontagne said the regulatory changes require export permits for waste considered hazardous by other countries — even if it isn’t considered hazardous in Canada. 

“Since 2016, no request for export permits for plastic waste were requested or issued,” she said, adding the government “is working to find new ways to reduce waste and use resources more efficiently, including through its vision of a zero plastic waste future.”

A CBC Marketplace investigation explored parts of Malaysia last year to show how some of Canada’s plastic waste shipments have ended up in landfills, burned, or broken down into millions of pieces of plastic floating in waterways.

Shipments of Canadian plastic garbage often end up in other countries due to false, inaccurate labels describing the shipping container’s contents.

In January, Malaysia sent back 11 containers of Canadian plastic waste that ended up in its ports. The Malaysian environment minister said she wanted to send a message that her country isn’t “the dumping site of the world.”

‘This should be a no-brainer’

Davidson said the idea for his bill was inspired by Australian government leaders’ decision last year to introduce a ban on plastic waste exports. According to the Associated Press, Australia’s plastic waste is sent to countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

Yet, Canada is pressing forward with other actions against plastics.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told reporters Thursday the government will be moving ahead with its plan to implement a national ban on single-use plastics next year.

His confirmation came shortly after the release of the government’s draft science assessment on plastic pollution, concluding there’s evidence that single-use plastics, broken down into microplastic pieces, could pose as a physical hazard if inhaled or ingested. 

He said if his amendment is adopted into law, it will help fuel subsequent discussions about recycling facilities and how plastic waste is managed in Canada.

Davidson suggested the spirit of his bill is similar to the domestic push for a ban on harmful single-use plastics — but with an international effect. 

The issue “shouldn’t be a partisan thing,” he said. “This should be a no-brainer.”