In response to years of plastic pollution advocacy, and as part of a Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Waste to improve plastics management, the Federal Government is proposing a ban on six types of single-use plastic (SUPs) as deemed warranted and supported by science. The SUPs they have in their sights are items that are problematic for the environment and for value-recovery, have viable alternatives, and do not perform an essential function (or only in very limited circumstances).
Other types of plastics are likely to come under different control mechanisms with this proposed approach to plastic management, like incentive and behaviour change programs or extended producer responsibility to improve reuse and recycling. The Government released a science assessment and discussion paper and accepted feedback until December, 2020, with final regulations to be announced later this year.
Why does this matter now?
According to our survey results, many businesses buy stock that lasts 12 months, or even multiple years. Rather than being stuck with items that are likely to be banned, you can adjust any ordering until you know more. The most heavily impacted businesses are likely to be cafes and restaurants or locations that serve food or drinks, particularly to-go.
You can also start to implement initiatives ahead of time, creating a positive reputation for your business and doing the right thing for the environment.
- Plastic check out bags;
- Stir sticks;
- 6-pack rings;
- Foodware from “hard-to-recycle” plastics (see discussion below).
What is likely to be in or out?
The items above appear fairly straightforward, but based on our local survey there may be a few things to clarify.
Plastic check-out bags
The language so far is quite specific to check-out bags, so we suspect produce bags and other types of plastic bags will not be included.
It is unclear whether these will continue to be available where necessary for people with medical or physical requirements.
This is likely to include the malleable 6-pack yokes/rings, not the recyclable rigid plastic can holders.
What is a “hard-to-recycle” plastic? The Government has identified them as: “food packaging and service ware (for example, takeout containers and lids, plates, bowls and cups) made from problematic plastics, including:
- foamed plastics
- black plastic
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- oxo-degradable plastic, or
- multiple (composite) materials including one or more plastics.”
This will likely include many common foam packaging items, e.g. foam clamshells, coffee cups, meat trays, etc, as foam is not not very economically viable to recycle. Black plastic is often labelled as recyclable, but the recycling infrastructure at some Materials Recovery Facilities does not process it and it ends up in landfill. PVC relates to food packaging and service ware, not PVC piping. Oxo-degradable plastics are simply regular plastics with additives that make them breakdown into microplastics, which is environmentally problematic. Composite plastics, like paper coffee cups with plastic linings, can be challenging to recycle as they often require additional sorting and infrastructure that may not be widely available or economical. It is unclear whether this might also include cardboard take-out containers with plastic linings. These are not currently accepted in Lethbridge anyway.
1. Focus on reduction.
This has multiple benefits, reducing your operating costs by having less need for items and having a positive environmental impact. We cannot solve the current issue by banning items and switching to alternatives with tenuous environmental benefit – reduction is key and small actions do help. For example, Runners Soul ask customers if they would like a bag rather than automatically give one, and as a result have noticed customers are less likely to take one which has reduced the overall quantity they use. This is called prompting and such a simple act can be used for all single-use items, not just bags.
You can also help people to remember by putting prompting signs/posters on your doors, in car parks, posts on social media, etc. Also, remember many people are returning to their home or office to eat and may not actually need cutlery as they can use what they have at their destination.
2. Choose to reuse.
You could make a commitment to use only washable and reusable items in your business, e.g. having ceramic plates and metal cutlery rather than disposables for eating in and as stir sticks, which according to research can actually save you money. Recycling rates are often limited by food contamination, single-use items actually being recycled after being used for food service relies upon the store or customer washing those items. The actual number of people doing this commercially or privately is likely to be small. If you can encourage people to use reusable containers this can decrease the amount of plastic waste produced by food contamination.
Several coffee shops support customers using reusable coffee cups and Environment Lethbridge is coordinating a HuskeeSwap program for Lethbridge just waiting to be launched. Stitch it Forward are reinvigorating a Boomerang Bags program in town to encourage reusable bags.
Or, think about other ways customers can reuse packaging after purchase, for example, Ash and Antler have switched to paper bags but often make them seasonal (e.g. Christmas themed) to encourage people to repurpose as gift wrapping.
The Government has indicated that there are other types of plastic that they will be targeting by promoting reuse programs, so keep an eye out for this.
3. Choose appropriate alternatives.
Simply substituting one item for another may not actually help the current waste and litter problem. See the document linked below for information on some of the types of alternatives available.
Any substitution should occur alongside reduce and reuse programs and incentives, for example, maybe you switch from plastic to paper bags but you also charge for the paper bag to encourage people to BYO. You could donate it to offset some of the impacts of using the item through reforestation programs like One Tree Planted. Offering reusable options or substitutes and offering incentives like discounts or additional charges tends to be the most effective way to encourage reuse.
Bagasse food containers are made from a by-product of sugar production and have less environmental impact than wood fiber paper.
Look for products using majority or entirely recycled content, like plastics marked RPET, as well as being recyclable. Don’t forget that just because something says it’s recyclable it doesn’t mean it’s recycled locally, like cardboard take-out containers for example. Check City of Lethbridge’s Waste Wizard to be sure.
Be aware that compostable products generally only compost in commercial composting facilities which don’t currently exist in Lethbridge, and may not be accepted in future curbside or commercial compost programs. However, they do arguably have a smaller environmental impact in production compared to regular plastic, particularly the PLA plastics (Polylactic Acid, a vegetable-based plastic material).
If you have to use plastic, try to choose plastic numbers that are readily recyclable in Lethbridge and the most actually recycled by industry plastics like PET (#1 polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (#2 high density polyethylene). Try to also ensure items can be cleaned to be recycled and go the extra mile and educate/remind your customers.
Unfortunately, there isn’t often an easy answer, if there were the issue would probably have been solved by now. There are pros and cons to many foodservice items like those highlighted in the document below and references at the bottom of this page.
What products should I use?
Taking the time to research and source appropriate products is challenging. It’s hard to know what is actually beneficial and where to buy from. We’ve created a list of products and suppliers to ease some of the burden. This list is not exhaustive, inevitably we’ll have missed something so if you have any additional suggestions please let us know and we can update. While we have made efforts to ensure the supplier delivers to Lethbridge, we cannot guarantee this at all times.
What are some reliable third party certifications and standards to help me choose?
Environmental claims on items can be simply self-reported, or a company can obtain a voluntary or mandatory standard for the product. Self-reported claims must have supporting data available, but they are not always third-party verified and not formally regulated, therefore, they may be misleading. For example, the use of the term compostable is not actually regulated, so a company could use it despite not being to industry standard. Look for third-party or independently verified certifications, preferably based on the life cycle of the product rather than a single attribute. See below for some certifications to look out for, or this link explaining what some icons you may see actually mean.
- Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI – above)- this is a certification to identify compostable and biodegradable products. BPI recently stopped certifying compostable products that contain some harmful PFAS/chlorine chemicals.
- CSA group – international voluntary standards development, assessment, and certification organisation.
- ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) – Voluntary standards that companies can apply for their product. Unfortunately, there is generally a cost to view the actual detail of the standard.
- Certified compostable (below) – based on Canadian compostable standard, which is based on international standards.
- EcoLogo – a life cycle assessed certification, only the top 20% of products on the market can achieve this certification.
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – promoting responsible forest management. Arguably the better of the two common forest management certifications. Uses performance based measurements and environmental and social criteria, including not allowing conversion of existing forest to plantations.
- Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) – promoting sustainably managed forests. Based on plans and management systems which may or may not have in-the-field outcomes. Most common certification initiative for the timber industry with large tracts of forest certified across North America.
Want to be a more all-round sustainable business?
Check out the Small Business Energy Efficiency Program guide to see what you can do. Keep an eye out for our green meetings guide that will help you shift away from unsustainable materials in your workplace meetings.