SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
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The environmental perspective
This chapter's focus on reducing waste and transitioning to zero-emission vehicles directly supports SDG Global Indicator Framework Target 12.5: By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
The Canadian economy relies on nature and the resources it provides. However, nature is under threat due to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption where a throwaway culture is the norm. In a 2021 study published by the Council of Canadian Academies, a first circularity rate for Canada is estimated at 6.1%. This value can be compared to those reported by Eurostat for the EU countries, where in the EU-27, the circularity rate is 14.4%.
Impacts of increasing rates of resource consumption can be significant, potentially leading to negative impacts on the environment, resource shortages, rising or volatile prices, and supply chain interruptions. Transitioning to a cleaner economy means finding smart new approaches and technologies that design waste out of our consumption systems—both biological and technical—and create economic opportunities out of the materials that citizens and organizations might otherwise throw away.
Shifting toward a more sustainable circular economy can reduce pressures on the planet, helping to address climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution while also creating new economic opportunities. It means addressing key waste management challenges of today, including growing waste volumes, plastic pollution, food and agricultural waste, climate change, and biodiversity loss.
The circular economy is founded on 3 principles: design pollution and waste out of the economy, keep products and materials in use (through sharing, reuse, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling), and work with nature to regenerate and enhance ecosystems. Using these principles, we can sustainably manage our economy for the benefit of current and future generations.
The private and public sectors, civil society, citizens and consumers are advancing the circular economy in Canada. Many of these efforts have focused on addressing plastic waste and pollution given that globally roughly 8 million tonnes of plastic enter oceans each year from land, causing an estimated USD $13 billion in damages annually to marine ecosystems. In addition, plastic production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, and increased plastic production could negatively affect countries' ability to meet their Paris Agreement targets. For these reasons, plastic pollution and waste has emerged as a top global environmental priority, creating increasing momentum for a circular plastics economy.
In the agricultural sector, circular strategies focus on increasing the resource and energy efficiency of food systems (for example, precision agriculture), finding productive uses for food loss and waste (such as animal feed, up-cycled food products, composting and waste to resource), and investing in restoring ecosystems and biodiversity (for example, regenerative agriculture).
An important result of inefficiency in food systems, food loss and waste, is a global problem of enormous economic, environmental, and societal significance. A 2020 study found that food loss and waste made up about 23% of the waste landfilled in Canada in 2016. Food loss and waste disposed in landfills produces methane, a short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 23% of national methane emissions, and represent nearly 3.7% of Canada's total greenhouse gas emission inventory.
Transportation accounts for a quarter of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, of which almost half comes from passenger cars and light trucks. One way to reduce the amount of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions is to replace vehicles powered by fossil fuels (internal combustion engines, or ICEs), with zero-emission vehicles. In doing so, it will be important to ensure that the life-cycle carbon footprint associated with producing, powering and recycling zero-emission vehicles (and their component parts, such as lithium-ion batteries) is lower than that of ICE vehicles. Investing in public transportation, walkable communities, and car-sharing can also reduce emissions and support sustainable cities and communities.
Where the Government of Canada is going
Mandate letters released in December 2021 outline the Government of Canada's direction and policy priorities. Selected commitments related to Sustainable Development Goal 12 are listed below.
- Create a No-Waste Food Fund to help all players along the food supply chain to commercialize and adopt ways to eliminate, reduce or repurpose food waste (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food).
- Implement a 'right to repair' to extend the life of home appliances, particularly electronics, by requiring manufacturers to supply repair manuals and spare parts, and by amending the Copyright Act to allow for the repair of digital devices and systems (Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry; Minister of Environment and Climate Change).
- Strengthen federal procurement practices to prioritize reusable and recyclable products in support of our goal of zero plastic waste and to support procurement of Canadian clean technology (Minister of Public Services and Procurement; Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry).
- Develop a regulated sales mandate that at least 50% of all new light duty vehicle sales be zero emissions vehicles in 2030 as an interim step toward achieving Canada's mandatory target of 100% by 2035, a regulated sales requirement that 100% of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sales be zero emission by 2040, where feasible, as well as a strategy to decarbonize emission-intensive on-road freight (Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Minister of Transport).
- To achieve Zero Plastic Waste by 2030:
- Continue to implement the national ban on harmful single-use plastics (Minister of Environment and Climate Change);
- Accelerate the implementation of the zero plastic waste action plan, in partnership with provinces and territories (Minister of Environment and Climate Change);
- Ensure that producers, not taxpayers, are responsible for the cost of managing their plastic waste (Minister of Environment and Climate Change);
- Implement and enforce an ambitious recycling target of 90%—aligned with Quebec and the European Union—for plastic beverage containers (Minister of Environment and Climate Change);
- Introduce labelling rules that prohibit the use of the chasing-arrows symbol unless 80% of Canada's recycling facilities accept, and have reliable end markets for, these products (Minister of Environment and Climate Change);
- Support provincial and territorial producer responsibility efforts by establishing a federal public registry and requiring producers to report annually on plastics in the Canadian economy (Minister of Environment and Climate Change);
- Create a new infrastructure and innovation fund that will scale-up and commercialize made-in-Canada technologies and solutions for the reuse and recycling of plastics (Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry)
How the Government of Canada contributes
The Government of Canada is committed to advancing sustainable consumption and production through initiatives that reduce waste, promote sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources, and achieve sound management of chemicals and waste.
Canada continues to be recognized as an international leader on combatting plastic pollution, stemming both from its 2018 Group of 7 (G7) Presidency, and ongoing championing of the Ocean Plastics Charter. The charter, now endorsed by almost 30 governments and more than 70 businesses and organizations, takes a comprehensive lifecycle approach to preventing marine plastic pollution. It lays the groundwork to ensure that plastics are designed for longer product life and increased recovery, such as through reuse and recycling. This protects the environment and keeps a valuable resource in the economy.
In support of the charter, Canada has invested $100 million to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce plastic pollution. This includes advancing gender equity elements in plastic pollution through the World Bank ProBlue Fund and supporting the development of national plastic action plans in Indonesia, Ghana, Vietnam and Nigeria via the Global Plastic Action Partnership.
Canada also works through multilateral fora such as the G7, Group of 20 (G20), Arctic Council, Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the United Nations, as well as bilaterally with key partners, to strengthen policy, advance research and exchange information and best practices. Canada recently played a critical leadership role during the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly supporting the process that launched negotiations towards the establishment of a new legally-binding global agreement on plastics, and will advocate for ambitious action going forward.
The Government of Canada is working with provinces and territories through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to implement the Canada-wide Strategy and Action Plans on Zero Plastic Waste. This work takes a life-cycle approach to addressing plastic waste and pollution. The government has adopted a comprehensive approach to meeting the target of zero plastic waste by 2030. Key actions include investing in research through Canada's Plastics Science Agenda, promoting innovation through the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenges, and supporting sector-based solutions and community action through the Zero Plastic Waste Initiative. The government has also committed to ban select harmful single-use plastic items where there is evidence that they are found in the environment, are often not recycled, and have readily available alternatives. Finally, the government works in partnership with organizations and industries to develop solutions to reduce waste and increase the recovery of plastic waste in Canada.
These efforts build on previous initiatives of the resource efficiency and circular economy working groups under the G7 and G20, of which Canada is an active member. This includes the G7 Resource Efficiency Alliance, an international platform created in 2015 with the objective of sharing best practices on resource efficiency, circular economy, sustainable material management, and the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle). To date, discussions at the Alliance have resulted in a number of guiding documents, including the Toyama Framework on Material Cycles (2016), and the 5-year Bologna Roadmap on Resource Efficiency (2017).
Canada is party to several legally binding international agreements that prevent waste and litter, control the transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes, and ensure that such wastes are disposed of in an environmentally sound way. These include the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, the London Convention and Protocol to prevent marine pollution from dumping at sea, and the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic treaty to protect the Antarctic environment. Sustainable consumption and production is recognized by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity as a key element of safeguarding nature.
In September 2021, Canada hosted the World Circular Economy Forum 2021 (WCEF2021), with the Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra, to focus on the key actions and systemic changes needed to create the conditions for a thriving global circular economy. Canada is part of the Leadership Group of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, and in early 2021 joined the Global Alliance on the Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency.
The federal government is also exploring how to apply circular economy approaches in areas such as green procurement, food waste, value-retention processes, and forestry and mining, including through:
- the Value-retention Processes Strategy to encourage the remanufacturing, refurbishment, repair and reuse of products to increase the reuse of materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada
- the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan, which envisions a circular economy where mine waste is reprocessed to improve sustainability and derive additional economic value
The Food Policy for Canada, launched in 2019, includes Reduce Food Waste as one of 4 near-term action areas, supported by a $26.3 million investment from 2019 to 2024, (including $20 million for the Food Waste Reduction Challenge) to stimulate innovative solutions and demonstrate federal leadership on food loss and waste. The Food Waste Reduction Challenge seeks to find innovative solutions to reducing food loss and waste, thereby increasing food availability, saving consumers and businesses money, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthening our food systems.
The federal government is committed to decarbonizing Canada's transportation sector and becoming a global leader in zero-emission vehicles. At the COP26 climate summit in 2021, Canada signed the Global Memorandum of Understanding for Zero-Emission Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, committing parties to working toward 100% zero-emission new truck and bus sales by 2040 and 30% by 2030. Canada signed the COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans, which brings together national governments, states, regions, cities, vehicle manufacturers, businesses, investors and civil society all committed to working towards 100% zero-emission car and van sales by 2035 in leading markets, and no later than 2040 globally. The Government of Canada is steadfast in its conviction that the electrification of Canada's light-duty vehicles and a shift to cleaner fuels are key to decarbonizing our transportation sector.
Northern and remote waste management
Communities in northern and remote regions face unique challenges in managing their municipal solid waste due to climate, geology, population size and distribution, socioeconomic factors, and access to services and facilities. As a result of these challenges, some existing waste management practices do not sufficiently protect human health and the environment. While the principles of environmentally sound waste management are well-documented, best practices need to be adapted to the distinct circumstances of northern and remote communities. This includes engaging the community to raise awareness on the importance of proper waste management and planning, and prioritizing infrastructure improvements, operational activities, and major waste types to reduce risks to human health and the environment, among other best practices.