Advocacy update: Single-use items

Published December 10, 2020

Restaurants Canada is continuing to work with all levels of government toward a whole-of-society approach to single-use items, calling for evidence-based policies and consistent standards across jurisdictions.

Restaurant operators recognize that environmental sustainability is an important part of doing business and have been increasing their efforts to help reduce waste from single-use items. Many have been implementing best practices that Restaurants Canada shared in our Single-use Items Reduction Strategy Guide.

However consumer appetite for takeout and delivery has been increasing in recent years, and the COVID-19 crisis has made the critical need for single-use items clearer than ever before. With the pandemic likely persisting well into 2021, takeout and delivery will continue to make up a large part of foodservice sales for the foreseeable future and restaurants will continue to need safe and effective single-use items that they can source at affordable costs.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, foodservice operators across the country were already working hard to navigate a complex and often contradictory patchwork of regulations around single-use items while balancing the needs of diners increasingly seeking the convenience of takeout and delivery options.

Restaurants Canada is continuing to work with all levels of government toward:

  • A whole-of-society approach, recognizing the need for consumer education to ensure single-use takeout and delivery items are successfully composted or recycled.
  • Evidence-based policies, allowing for reasonable timelines for alternative products to enter the market that can be effectively diverted from landfill.
  • Consistent standards across jurisdictions, facilitating harmonization of waste management practices that will optimize environmental outcomes as a result of streamlined business operations and clearer expectations for consumers across the country.

The challenge with switching to non-plastic alternatives

While foodservice businesses have demonstrated a willingness to adapt their practices to support progress toward the implementation of a Canada-wide strategy on zero plastic waste, they need solutions that will allow them to continue providing their customers with safe, accessible and affordable takeout and delivery options. They also want to be sure that their investments will actually result in positive environmental outcomes.

In the case of plastic straws, many restaurants have successfully implemented reduction strategies by adopting “by-request” policies (as non-plastic alternatives are often not suitable for guests with disabilities) and otherwise eliminating straws or switching to paper or other non-plastic alternatives. This is an area where notable progress has been possible, thanks to supply chain innovations and a willingness on the part of consumers to change behaviour.

Unfortunately switching to non-plastic alternatives isn’t always safe or effective when it comes to other single-use items, especially for transporting food at warm temperatures. Restaurant operators have been exploring the use of biodegradable plastics, bioplastics and compostable plastics. However there is currently no universal solution or method to properly dispose of these non-plastic alternatives that will ensure better environmental outcomes. And not all jurisdictions accept paper products lined with protective coatings in their waste diversion programs.

Practices differ from municipality to municipality, and waste hauler to waste hauler, and restaurant operators are often faced with few if any viable options for switching to non-plastic alternatives that can be diverted from landfill.

Federal consultation on single-use plastic bans

As part of a plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, the Government of Canada is proposing to introduce regulations by the end of 2021 to ban single-use plastic items where there is evidence that they are:

  • Harmful to the environment
  • Often not recycled
  • Replaceable with readily available alternatives

Based on these criteria, the government is proposing to ban the following items:

  • Checkout bags
  • Stir sticks
  • Six-pack rings
  • Cutlery
  • Straws
  • Foodservice ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics

This list of items was published in a discussion paper, which also sets out the federal government’s plans to establish recycled content requirements in products and packaging and determine end-of-life responsibility for plastics.

On behalf of the country’s vital foodservice sector, Restaurants Canada has submitted a response to this discussion paper, to ensure industry concerns are represented as part of the federal government’s ongoing consultation process.

Keeping you updated on evolving regulations

Restaurants Canada continues to be at the table with all levels of government, advocating for policies that avoid any undue burden on businesses that rely on single-use items to provide takeout and delivery services, and will continue to provide updates on evolving regulations.

Get the latest information on how foodservice operations are being impacted across the country: Download our cross-country snapshot of single-use item regulations.

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