single-use plastics

Canada’s single-use plastics ban “singles out” foodservice

Canada’s single-use plastics ban, which has been on the cards for years and slowly but surely gathering momentum, is set to take final effect before the end of the year.

On June 20, the government of Canada published final regulations to prohibit “harmful” single-use plastics, with a ban on manufacturing and importing most of these items to come into effect in December, reports Reuters.

Only six specific manufactured plastic items will be affected by the initial ban: straws, takeout containers, grocery bags, cutlery, stir sticks, and plastic rings used to bind cans or bottles.

“The ban on the manufacture and import of these harmful single-use plastics, barring a few targeted exceptions to recognize specific cases, will come into effect in December 2022,” the government said on Monday. A grace period of one year will be given to companies to stop the sale of these items to allow them enough time to transition, with a ban on the sale of such plastics to be in place by December 2023.

The move comes almost three years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first promised to phase out the production and use of hard-to-recycle plastic items. The Liberal government is aiming for zero plastic waste by the end of the decade. The initial plan was for the ban to happen in 2021, but that move — like so much — was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Canadian foodservice is well-placed to embrace the federal single-use plastic ban

The draft regulations to ban six broad plastic items were published in December. The government has to have at least a six-month-long phase-in period now that the final regulations are published.

In the intervening period between Trudeau announcing the plan and the regulations being published, some provinces and cities such as Montreal have already taken their own action, as have many retailers and manufacturers as well as several fast food outlets.

Restaurants “singled out”

However, the ban is not universally popular.

On the day of the announcement, June 20, Restaurants Canada published a statement in which it expressed concern over the announcement and its timeline and said foodservice had been “singled out” in a new climate in which off-premises consumption is integral to many restaurants’ business.

“The news is placing added pressure on the foodservice industry as it continues to struggle and rebuild following the pandemic,” read the statement. “Single-use items pose a unique challenge for foodservice operators, as Canadians are increasingly turning to delivery and takeout. While on-premise dining still accounts for most foodservice sales nationwide, on-premise sales have been losing market share to takeout and delivery orders.”

The association added that while restaurants are seeking recyclable and sustainable solutions that meet the needs of their environmentally conscious customers, by removing single-use plastics from the market “without enough affordable and sustainable replacement options in place, the industry will take on an estimated 125 per cent increase in costs” even before accounting for further costs associated with the increased demand for such products resulting in supply shortages. 

Olivier Bourbeau, VP of national affairs for Restaurants Canada, told the Toronto Star that foodservice is already having trouble sourcing options for takeout containers.

“You can’t put soup in a cardboard box. You can’t just put fries in people’s hands,” he said. “We’d really prefer to see an extension aligned with supply.”

Non-plastic options both are harder to find and more expensive, said Ryan Mallough, Ontario VP for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Pre-pandemic when this was first floated, one of the biggest challenges was always going to be ‘what do we replace it with, and how do we source it’?” Mallough told the Star. “And, more importantly, how do we source it relatively quickly?”

For grocers, particularly smaller chains and independents, replacing plastic bags and takeout containers is shaping up to be a logistical nightmare, as larger competitors snap up limited supplies of alternative products, said Gary Sands, vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

On the flip side, food industry expert and professor and director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, Sylvain Charlebois, argues that the worldwide supply chain stretch could be a perfect time to transition to greener substitutes.

“Supply chains are impacting everything right now. So it doesn’t matter what you’re looking at, you’re having trouble procuring it. So I actually think it was the right time to do it. I think Ottawa is reading the room correctly on this one.”

However, he acknowledged that the switch will be easier for larger chains and could hit independent and small businesses hard.

“It boils down to cost. Larger chains are better organized, but they’re able to negotiate better deals. That’s the biggest challenge for smaller operators. They’re gonna have to really negotiate good prices. Most nonplastic technologies are more expensive. So that’s the concern I would have for smaller players. The Tim Hortons of this world will be able to deal with that.”

The Canadian Press notes that a study published by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2019 found that 3.3 million tonnes of plastic were thrown out, with almost half of that consisting of plastic packaging. Less than one-tenth of that was recycled and most ended up in landfills, where it will take hundreds of years to decompose. An estimated 29,000 tonnes ended up as plastic pollution, littering parks, forests, waterways and shorelines with cigarette butts, food wrappers and disposable coffee cups.

Federal data shows that in 2019, 15.5 billion plastic grocery bags, 4.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, three billion stir sticks, 5.8 billion straws, 183 million six-pack rings and 805 million takeout containers were sold in Canada.