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Canada: Restaurants & foodservice operators may be hit hard by ban on single-use plastics

The sale of these items will be prohibited as of December 2023.

Toronto: Restaurants, ghost kitchens and food service operators are feeling concerned over the decision of the Canadian government to regulate and prohibit single-use plastics. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, and the Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, announced  early this week the final regulations to prohibit single-use plastics including:

  • checkout bags;
  • cutlery;
  • foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics that are hard to recycle;
  • ring carriers;
  • stir sticks; and
  • straws (with some exceptions).

The ban on manufacturing and importing these single-use plastics, barring a few targeted exceptions to recognize specific cases, will come into effect in December 2022. The sale of these items will be prohibited as of December 2023. The government indicated that they do not intend to add any additional items to the list of six.

Restaurants Canada, an organisation of Restaurants representatives, has  shown its concern over the Federal announcement and its timelines. In a statement, Restaurants Canada says  the news is placing added pressure on the foodservice industry as it continues to struggle and rebuild following the pandemic. 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 ongoing pandemic has also witnessed a phenomenal growth of “Ghost Kitchens”  specialising  in  foodservice. These “ghost kitchens” work without dining areas and operate only on delivery of cooked food.

There are a number of “ghost kitchens” or tiffin service providers that have in a couple of years build good clienteles with their home or office delivery of food. They rely to a great extent on single-use plastic containers and cutlery.

Restaurant operators know that consumers want their dining experiences to be as environmentally sustainable as possible, but also want convenience. Given this market reality, restaurants are seeking solutions that reduce the environmental impacts of single-use items while allowing them to meet the needs of their customers in ways that are accessible and safe.

In removing single-use plastics from the market without enough affordable and sustainable replacement options in place, the industry will take on an estimated 125% increase in costs. This does not account for the costs associated with the increased demand for such products resulting in supply shortages.

Many big food chains have already started working on alternate food packaging materials. At a recent exhibition organised Restaurants Canada, a variety of new food packaging materials were on display.  New manufacturing facilities for environment friendly cost effective materials are also expected to be operational in coming months.

Restaurants Canada would have appreciated a more gradual, phased-in approach to new plastics regulations, to give restaurant  and foodservice operators time to source safe and cost-effective packaging alternatives, and give manufacturer’s time to produce them.

Above all, Restaurants Canada will continue to call for a “do no harm” approach to any new government policies impacting foodservice operations, says its communique maintaining that it will continue to work closely with the government to ensure its concerns are recognized.

Some food chains had started looking ahead of government notifications.  “We have already moved to aluminium foils and paper packings. Use of plastic straws is being gradually reduced and we are moving to paper straws. We are looking for more new, environmentally friendly food packaging materials,’ says Ms Gurpreet Chandhoke, a franchisee  of a leading food chain.

No one wants to see plastic litter in their local park or hiking trail, or on the shoreline where their kids play. That’s why the Government of Canada has moved forward a comprehensive plan to ban harmful single-use plastics and keep them out of the environment.

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. To provide businesses in Canada with enough time to transition and to deplete their existing stocks, the sale of these items will be prohibited as of December 2023. The Government will also prohibit the export of plastics in the six categories by the end of 2025, making Canada the first among peer jurisdictions to do so internationally, the statement said.

Over the next decade, this world-leading ban on harmful single-use plastics will result in the estimated 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 a million garbage bags full of litter. This measure puts Canada among world leaders in fighting plastic pollution and will help to meet the commitments of the Ocean Plastics Charter and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change , says : “We promised Canadians we would deliver a ban on single-use plastics. Today, that’s exactly what we’ve done. By the end of the year, you won’t be able to manufacture or import these harmful plastics. After that, businesses will begin offering the sustainable solutions Canadians want, whether that’s paper straws or reusable bags. With these new regulations, we’re taking a historic step forward in reducing plastic pollution, and keeping our communities and the places we love clean.”
Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, says  “We are focused on protecting the health of those who live in Canada, while improving our environment. We know that plastic pollution can be found in outdoor air, food and drinking water, so by addressing this, we will improve health outcomes for all Canadians. These new regulations mark a turning point for Canada. We are taking strong action to protect the environment, creating cleaner and healthier communities across the country.”
Statistically speaking  up to 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used every year and approximately 16 million straws are used daily. Single-use plastics like these make up most of the plastic litter found on shorelines across Canada.

According to new guidelines, Sales of single-use flexible plastic straws will be restricted as of December 2023. Exceptions to the ban on straws allow single-use plastic flexible straws to remain available for people in Canada who require them for medical or accessibility reasons. This includes for use at home, in social settings, or in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and long‑term care facilities. All other types of single-use plastic straws will be prohibited.

Prohibitions on the manufacture and import of ring carriers and flexible straws packaged with beverage containers (e.g., juice boxes) will come into force in June 2023 and the prohibition on the sale of these items will come into force in June 2024. These transition timelines recognize the complexity associated with retooling manufacturing lines for these products.

Prabhjot Singh

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