Ban on single-use plastics has started with no visible benefits yet

WATERLOO REGION — After ringing in the last item, Jordan Dolson looks at her customer and asks if they want a bag for the groceries.

The owner of Legacy Greens in downtown Kitchener is years ahead of federal government regulations that aim to eliminate single-use plastics by 2030.

Just before Christmas the first step in the federal effort came into effect: a ban on the manufacture and importation of plastic checkout bags, plastic cutlery and plastic food containers. But all are still widely used, and will be for many months to come.

Dolson started using alternatives two years ago.

She phased out plastic bags, started using paper ones and offered more produce in bulk containers. In spring 2022, Dolson also started using reusable plastic containers from the clean-tech startup Friendlier for prepared foods.

“I feel very good about all of those things,” said Dolson during an interview in her Ontario Street grocery Friday afternoon.

“I think most customers are fine with paper bags or bringing their own bags,” she said. “The majority of people want to reduce their use of single-use plastic.”

Ottawa’s ban on the manufacturing or importation of plastic checkout bags, food containers, stir sticks, straight straws, chopsticks, knives, forks and sporks came into effect on Dec. 20. Existing inventories must be used up by Dec. 20, 2023, when they can no longer be used.

The ban on making or importing plastic ring carriers comes into effect in June. Again, they can be used for another year before the ban on their use begins June 20, 2024.

“It does make sense to go after the manufacturing and importing first,” said Dolson. “All of us in the grocery chain have inventories of packaging and we should be able to use those inventories. Otherwise we would have to put our inventories in the garbage.”

Flexible straws will not be banned because people with physical challenges need them to drink liquids. Retail stores can sell flexible straws in packages of 20 or more if they are not on public display and only if requested by a customer. Care institutions can provide flexible straws to patients and residents.

But the flexible straws attached to juice boxes and pouches will be banned.

Getting plastic waste out of the environment will take more than government regulations, said Dolson.

“Our culture is so obsessed with convenience,” she said. “If they eliminate paper cups, is everyone going to bring reusable cups or have their coffees in cafés like Europeans? I don’t know if that is going to happen in our culture – our culture is so grab-and-go.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada chose to prohibit the six single-use plastic items (checkout bags, cutlery, food containers made from hard-to-recycle plastics, ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws) because they are commonly found in the environment, are harmful to wildlife and wildlife habitat, are difficult to recycle and have readily available alternatives, the federal department said in an email.

Over the next decade, this world-leading ban will result in the elimination of over 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution, which is equivalent to over one million full garbage bags, the department says.

Currently, only nine percent of plastics are recycled, and Ottawa wants that increased, says Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The federal government is working with provinces, territories and industry to set an ambitious collection target of 90 per cent recycling of plastic beverage bottles. It is also developing regulations to require that certain plastic packaging contains at least 50 percent recycled content and to establish clear rules for labeling recyclable and compostable plastics.

Draft regulations are targeted for publication as early as fall 2023. In addition, the government is developing a plastic registry to hold plastic producers accountable for their plastic waste.

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