Written on: December 1, 2022 by Cassandra Taylor
In early 2022, Environment & Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations in the Canada Gazette1. The goal of the Certain Products Regulations is to limit volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from specific products manufactured or imported into Canada. The regulations were introduced to fulfill obligations according to Canada’s 2017 ratification of the Gothenburg Protocol and its amendments, which aim to improve air quality by addressing pollutants, including VOCs, that cause acidification and ground-level ozone. The VOC concentration limits have been in the works since as early as 2005, when stakeholders were first consulted on the Government of Canada’s intention to regulate VOC emissions from certain products. The first draft proposal was released in 2008, followed by updated revisions in 2013 and 2019. Nearly 20 years since the initial consultations, the proposal is finally becoming law.
“Certain Products” used in households and by institutional, industrial and commercial consumers will be regulated, including:
• Personal care products
• Automotive and household maintenance products
• Adhesives, adhesive removers, sealants and caulks
• Other miscellaneous products
Schedules 1 & 2 of the regulations establish VOC concentration limits and maximum emissions potential for approximately 130 product categories and sub-categories. The regulations, which apply to Canadian manufacturers and importers, also set out requirements for recordkeeping, product labeling and for any testing analysis, if pursued, to be performed by an accredited laboratory.
Most of the product categories align with California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) 2010 version of the Regulation for Reducing VOC Emissions from Antiperspirants & Deodorants and Regulation for Reducing Emissions from Consumer Products. Additionally, certain categories have been aligned with CARB’s 2013 Regulation for Reducing Emissions from Consumer Products amendments, including rubber and vinyl protectant; lubricants; footwear or leather care products; laundry pre-wash; oven or grill cleaner; and spot remover.
Two additional product categories not covered under CARB Regulations have also been added: structural waterproof adhesives, which are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ozone Transport Commission, and acoustical sealants, which are specifically needed in the cold Canadian climate. Canada has also adopted higher concentration limits for categories including sealant and caulking products, paint thinner and multipurpose solvent in order to better accommodate Canadian climate or marketplace conditions.
ECCC has incorporated three alternative compliance options into the Regulations for companies that are unable to meet the VOC concentration and emission potential requirements:
1. Permit: Technical or economic non-feasibility
This permit, which is valid for two years and can only be renewed once, grants temporary relief from the regulatory requirements once the limits come into effect. Manufacturers and importers must prove that they cannot technically or economically meet the specifications for their product and provide a plan detailing how the commodity will be brought into compliance once the permit expires.
2. Permit: Products whose use results in lower VOC emissions
A product may exceed the specified VOC concentration limit if, due to the product design, formulation, delivery or other factors, it emits fewer total VOCs than a comparable compliant product when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. To obtain this permit, which is valid for four years with no limit on renewal, the company must provide ECCC with evidence showing that the product’s use results in fewer VOCs released than a compliant product in the same category along with an estimate of the quantity imported or manufactured in a year.
3. VOC compliance unit trading system
Companies that exceed the concentration limit for one product may balance their emissions by averaging them with other products with VOC amounts below the required maximums. Compliance units may also be purchased via trading with other companies that have reformulated their products to VOC levels below the limits.
The VOC concentration limits and maximum emissions potentials for certain products come into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Disinfectants have been granted one additional year for compliance, with VOC limits coming into force on Jan. 1, 2025. Starting next month, on Jan. 1, 2023, companies may begin applying for the alternative compliance options that have been made available in the regulations.
The regulations do not apply to products designed solely for manufacturing or processing purposes or those intended for scientific research. Since the regulations limit manufacture rather than sale of goods, there is no limit on the sell-through of products manufactured or imported prior to the dates coming into force.
ECCC developed a guidance document that will be used by enforcement personnel to assess compliance according to the regulatory provisions—Analytical Methods for Determining VOC Concentrations & VOC Emission Potential for the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations2. Although there are currently no testing or general reporting obligations, it is the responsibility of the Canadian importer or manufacturer to ensure that products made available on the Canadian market meet the regulatory requirements. Records detailing the quantity and date of products manufactured or imported must be kept in Canada for at least five years; this could pose a challenge for manufacturers that do not have a Canadian place of business. Non-compliant companies are subject to various enforcement actions by the Government of Canada in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: Compliance & Enforcement Policy.
Industry stakeholders have raised concerns that the regulations do not provide definitions for any of the product categories. Since the wording of the definitions was not adopted from CARB, this could lead to compliance challenges and confusion around product classification due to the lack of explicit criteria for various product types. ECCC has considered this feedback and noted that verbatim adoption of CARB definitions would not be consistent with Canadian regulatory drafting styles. This is because Canadian regulations are drafted in English and French, so they must have equivalent interpretations in both languages, and because Canada does not define terms that can be found in the dictionary. Although the wording of the product categories in the regulations may not exactly match the definitions used by California, ECCC has taken great care to ensure that the descriptions align in scope and application. The Department reviewed the definitions for all product categories and added precision to most of them to better align with CARB. ECCC has also stated that guidance materials will be provided that clarify the intent to align with CARB definitions.
The regulations indicate that if a product falls into more than one category set out in Schedule 1, then the lowest maximum VOC limit applying to a category in which the product belongs must be applied. Therefore, if there is any doubt as to which category a product falls into, it is advisable to consider the most conservative product group.
Visit the VOCs in Certain Products Webpage3 for more information about the regulations and to find forms for alternative compliance options. As always, feel free to reach out to Nexreg any time for regulatory compliance support; we will certainly be watching out for additional guidance materials that are published on this topic. SPRAY