St. Albert restaurant owners say they will be ready for next year’s ban on six types of single-use plastics when it comes into force.
Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced Oct. 7 he would ban six types of single-use plastic items – plastic straws, cutlery, checkout bags, stir sticks, six-pack rings and foodware made from hard-to-recycle plastics (such as hard black plastic or expanded polystyrene) – by the end of 2021.
Federal officials signaled their intent to ban some single-use plastic items from Canada in June 2019.
Wilkinson said Canadians throw out about 570 garbage-bags worth of plastic waste a minute, or three million tonnes a year. Just nine per cent of that waste gets recycled. Some of that degrades into microplastics, which have now spread to all corners of Canada and entered our air, food and water.
“Plastic pollution threatens our natural environment,” Wilkinson said, filling our rivers, lakes, and oceans and choking the wildlife that lives there.
Wilkinson said the government chose to ban these six items because they are harmful to the environment, costly to recycle and easily replaced with non-plastic alternatives.
Wilkinson said these new rules would not affect the availability of protective gear used during the pandemic. He plans to work with the provinces to make that gear more recyclable or biodegradable.
Wilkinson also announced plans to bring in regulations to make plastic products more recyclable, such as recycled content requirements.
Wilkinson said reducing plastic waste could create some 42,000 jobs and prevent some 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year (about twice the amount St. Albert produced in 2017), and would work well with the Alberta government’s plans to become a centre of excellence in plastics recycling by 2030.
Big shrug from business
Businesses reached by the Gazette were nonchalant about the ban.
Nello’s Restaurant co-owner Danielle Saporito said she had already switched to paper straws and is now testing alternatives for her Styrofoam take-out containers.
“To be honest, they’re kind of terrible,” she said of the alternatives, as most couldn’t handle Italian food.
While the alternatives cost more, Saporito said she understands why the bans are needed, and doesn’t think they would have much effect on her business. Still, she hopes some stronger containers will reach the market soon.
Tu Le of Jack’s Burger Shack said he plans to replace his plastic straws and cutlery because of the ban, and has already switched to compostable containers.
“The world is just moving in that direction,” he said, and these are easy changes to make.
Morinville Sobey’s owner Shaun Thompson said his store has already swapped its single-use plastic bags for paper and reusable ones.
Bans just the start
Christina Seidel of the Recycling Council of Alberta praised the federal government for following through on this ban despite the pandemic, although she was disappointed the ban does not include disposable coffee cups.
“The list could have been much longer, but they have to start somewhere.”
Single-use plastic items like stir sticks are the lowest of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to waste reduction, said Sean Stepchuk of Waste Free Edmonton. You burn fossil fuels to make them, use them for two seconds, throw them out and get them back as microplastics in your beer.
“Our ancestors did without them, and we can certainly do without them too,” he said.
Single-use items are a pretty tiny part of the plastic waste, Seidel said. The government’s plans to look at recycled content and extended producer responsibility rules for plastics would have a greater impact than these bans, as those could increase waste diversion and grow the recycling industry in Alberta.
Seidel said these bans would need to include exceptions for people with disabilities (as some need straws to drink), adding Canada should turn to similar bans in Europe for guidance. She and Stepchuk also want the government to emphasize reusable items over non-plastic single-use ones.
It’s not a question of "paper versus plastic" bags, Seidel said.
“It’s a question of ‘We don’t need them.’”
Wilkinson also announced $2 million for plastic waste reduction projects. Seidel said $110,000 of that is for an upcoming study by the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association of plastic pollution in the Edmonton region.
Canadians have until Dec. 9 to comment on the proposed bans. Visit bit.ly/3lrrcFZ for the relevant discussion paper.