The federal government made international headlines earlier this year when it committed to ban the use of "harmful" single-use plastics throughout Canada. Notably, the announcement came with a commitment date of 2021, a relatively short time period that caught industry and stakeholders by surprise. Actions by the Government of Canada over the last year indicate that it is serious about meeting this ambitious 2021 target, and it has already started to implement a Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste. A significant part of Canada's broader strategy is a drastic reduction of plastic waste within federal operations, including the diversion of at least 75% of plastic waste from federal operations by 2030.

What's Happening

The Government of Canada has launched an initial Request for Information (RFI) seeking input on impending packaging requirements in Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) procurements. This wide-ranging RFI includes 16 questions, ranging from general comments on the Government of Canada's general approach to specific, technical questions related to, among other things, the minimum recycled content to be considered reusable, health and safety requirements, as well as necessary exemptions within the procurement framework.

Why You Should Respond

Industry, environmental groups and other affected parties should not miss this opportunity to participate in this critical element of the government's decision-making process. RFIs are prospective and forward-looking – government decision-makers are specifically engaging in this process to seek out Industry feedback. The RFI process offers a great opportunity for business to "get in on the ground floor" and influence public policy surrounding procurement before tendering practices become fixed. Government officials, including procurement authorities, are able to interact more openly during the RFI consultative process than they can with a bidder on a tender, meaning PSPC officials may ask for, consider, and rely on a much broader set of information than during a formal process. This provides an opportunity for a candid, frank conversation with government officials on difficult topics, including the need to push back when policy proposals move too quickly or go too far.

Perhaps most importantly, a thoughtful, well-organized response to an RFI may help establish a responding organization as a critical stakeholder as the Government of Canada continues to move forward in its quest to ban single-use plastics and reduce plastic waste. Environmental commitments are going to be a major feature of the federal government in the upcoming minority Parliament; under these circumstances, being identified as a key stakeholder may have salutary long-term economic and political benefits for a responding party.

All organizations with a stake in the future of plastics and reusable packaging in Canada should consider entering the arena through this RFI process, including through the use of a professionalized government relations strategy and outreach to key decision makers, along with strategic advice on proposing terms and conditions for future procurements.