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Plastic ban coming in 2021 after report concludes there is evidence of harm

shutterstock_700694767A national ban on many single-use plastics is on track for next year after a government report concluded Thursday that there is more than enough evidence proving plastic pollution is harmful.

“We will be moving towards a ban on harmful single-use plastics and we will be doing that in 2021,”” said Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

The federal Liberals promised last June they”d seek to ban plastic versions of a number of products such as straws, take-out containers and grocery bags. The ban would happen under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which requires a scientific assessment of the problem first.

A draft version of that assessment was released Thursday. It will be open to public comment until April 1.

The report says that in 2016, 29,000 tonnes of plastic garbage, the equivalent of about 2.3 billion single-use plastic water bottles, ended up as litter in Canada _ on beaches, in parks, in lakes, and even, says the report, in the air.

Some of the litter is easily visible” pieces bigger than 5 mm are called “macroplastics.”” But much of it is plastic that most of us can”t easily see, known as “microplastics”“ and “microfibres.”” These are tiny remnants of plastic smaller than 5 mm, that come when larger pieces of plastic are broken apart. They are also shed off things like clothes made of synthetic fabric, fleece blankets, and tires.

The science looked at the impact of all types of plastics and concluded that evidence is clear macroplastics are hurting wildlife” Dead birds found with plastic in their intestines, whales that wash up on shore with stomachs filled with tonnes of plastic they ingested as they swam, including flip flops and nylon ropes.

In one case, a turtle was found emaciated and dying. When the plastic was removed from its digestive tract, the turtle recovered.

The evidence is less clear about the harmful impacts of people or wildlife ingesting microplastics, and the scientists recommended further study be undertaken. A new fund of $2.2 million over the next two years will fund research on microplastics.

Wilkinson said the finding on macroplastics is enough to proceed with the ban.

He said the specific items that will be banned are still being worked out with scientists. A list will be released in the next few months, he said.

Plastic bags, straws, bottles and Styrofoam containers meant to be used once and discarded are all expected to be on the list but nothing has yet been confirmed.

Wilkinson said there will be time given to businesses who rely on those products to adapt but he is firm that the government is not going to wait several years.

“I think the Canadian public wants to see action quickly so certainly if there is a phase-in period, it won”t be an extensive one.””

He noted Canadians expect quick action on the file. Some companies are moving on their own. The Sobeys grocery chain is removing all plastic bags from its stores as of Jan. 31, taking 255 million plastic bags out of circulation over the next year. Canadians use as many as 15 billion plastic bags every year.

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association is not in favour of banning plastic items, saying it removes choice and alternatives are often worse.

“Given that scientific and economic studies around the world demonstrate that in most cases plastic packaging, plastic shopping bags and some single-use plastics are a better environmental choice when managed properly, bans are not the answer but rather managing them at their end of life is,”” the association says in a statement on its website.

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics campaign for Greenpeace Canada, said she doesn”t want the ban to result in alternative single-use items because that would simply be trading in one problem for another.

Rather she said the focus has to be on changing delivery models so we reduce unnecessary packaging and reuse that which cannot be avoided.

King said 2021 is fast enough for a ban to start “as long as the ban list is comprehensive,”” and includes both specific products and specific types of plastics.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, however, said there is no reason to wait until 2021.

“We know that single-use plastics will stick around forever,”” said Singh. “The idea that plastics and a product that is being designed to be used one time and it will last forever is simply irrational and it doesn”t make sense. We”ve got to put an end to it.””

Wilkinson said a plastics ban is only part of the government”s plan to address the problem of plastic waste. He said there is also work underway with the provinces to make the producers of plastics responsible for ensuring they don”t end up as garbage anywhere.

In 2018, when Canada hosted the G7 leaders” summit, Canada and four other leading economies signed a charter pledging that by 2040 all plastic produced in their countries would be reused, recycled or burned to produce energy. The United States and Japan stayed out.


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Vancouver bans plastic bags, straws, foam containers and other single use items

shutterstock_700694767Vancouver is bringing in bans on the use of plastic bags, straws and other single-use items, while introducing what the city believes to be a first-of-its-kind fee for disposable cups in the country.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart says bylaws passed by city council balance public demand for action on disposable items with the needs of those with disabilities and the business community.

“We have heard loud and clear that reducing waste from single-use items is important to residents and that bold action is needed,” Stewart said Thursday in a news release.

Under the new rules, plastic and compostable plastic straws will be banned on April 22, but food vendors must provide bendable straws upon request to meet an accessibility requirement. A one-year extension has been granted to allow plastic straws served with bubble tea, allowing more time for the market to provide alternatives.

Single-use utensils can only be given out when requested.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, plastic and compostable plastic shopping bags will also be prohibited.

Retailers can still provide paper bags, but they must contain at least 40% recycled content. Shoppers will be charged a fee of 15 cents for each paper bag in the first year, then 25 cents a bag after that.

The fees for buying reusable bags will be $1 in 2021 and $2 beginning the next year.

Disposable cups will also come with a 25-cent fee.

“The bylaws are crucial in reducing waste and litter,” said Monica Kosmak, the city’s senior project manager on the plan.

Each week in Vancouver, 2.5 million paper cups and two million plastic shopping bags are thrown out. Over the course of a year, 25 million to 30 million plastic straws also end up in landfills, she said.

Estimating exactly how much waste will be diverted is difficult, however. The city expects the effects of the bans to be significant and Kosmak said studies have shown fees on paper bags reduce their use by 80 to 90%.

Kosmak said Berkeley, Calif., has a disposable cup fee but she believes Vancouver is the first city in Canada to introduce one.

“We are breaking new ground with the fees on disposable cups so we’ll be monitoring that to see how effective it is,” she said.

Each business will keep the mandatory fees it collects.

The new rules join a previously approved bylaw that takes effect on Jan. 1 that prohibits foam cups and takeout containers.

The city has posted toolkits to help businesses and charities prepare for the bans.

But the rules irk some members of the business community. Greg Wilson, director of B.C. government relations with the Retail Council of Canada, said they are cumbersome and complex.

The burden on small businesses is disproportionate, he said, giving the example of a bike repair company that typically gives out fewer than 100 plastic bags a year. Switching to paper bags means they have to reprogram their point-of-sale register to display a separate line for the bag fee, then reprogram it again next year when the fee goes up. They are also required to report the number of single-use items they distribute to customers.

“For a big business, those reprogramming costs, those reporting costs, they’re not overly significant. But for a small independent business, those are very significant,” he said.

Vancouver’s plastic bag rules are also different than neighbouring jurisdictions, which is confusing for consumers and also businesses with stores in multiple municipalities, Wilson said.

“You have something that is very complex and not harmonized with surrounding jurisdictions,” he said.

Kosmak said Vancouver’s plastic bag bylaws closely resemble 12 of the 14 B.C. municipalities that have developed or are developing similar rules.


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Beyond paper versus plastic

shutterstock_1250226013e-360x240Have you ever asked yourself, “How much better is a paper shopping bag versus a plastic one?” or, “Which would be better for the environment?”

How do consumers evaluate sustainability in a world full of disposable conveniences? We know consumers want to live more sustainable and mindful lives. In fact, 81% of consumers feel strongly that retailers and manufacturers should help improve the environment by implementing programs to this effect. So it makes sense that consumers are drawn to corporate programs that make them feel better about lightening that load.

Keep in mind, consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their ability to discern between true commitment to sustainability and action taken just for show. And they’re not afraid to call out that authenticity—or lack of—on social media, in conversations with friends, or in any other channel. This has made some retailers and manufacturers hesitant, afraid of consumer backlash for well-intentioned efforts. Others are still sustainability skeptics; however, there is a wealth of evidence that says sustainability can boost the bottom line. In fact, when sustainability initiatives are integrated thoughtfully into the strategic plan, they can do everything from streamline the supply chain to unlock a new level of consumer loyalty.

One of the major challenges we hear companies express is that they know sustainability is important; however, they do not have a strategic plan for incorporating it into their store or brand. The word “sustainability” has increasingly become a catch-all term that can encompass everything from environmental conservation to employee relations, and much more. It can seem daunting to incorporate all of these factors into your overall business strategy, and figure out how it fits into your consumer marketing approach. So, whether you’re well on your way or just starting to incorporate sustainability into your strategy, here are five reasons to double down:

  1. Sustainability encourages a culture of innovation, pushing you to embrace new methods, technologies and ideas.
  2. Sustainability is a way to build authenticity, creating more transparency in your supply chain.
  3. Sustainability is a consumer-centric strategy. It requires you to understand the concerns your customers have, and how your store or brand can be a solution to help make their lives better.
  4. Sustainability drives greater efficiency; for example, many companies set commitments to move towards processes that reduce waste, requiring investment in research and development and sometimes the overhaul of supply chains. That upfront investment can pay off as your business benefits from a more efficient process and enhanced reputation.
  5. The positive effects of sustainability are good for us, and they make us feel good too. That goodwill can cut across your employees, consumers and other stakeholder groups.

To do it right, companies need to invest in truly understanding their consumers and embed sustainability into the foundation of their business. Authenticity comes through the end-to-end integration of sustainability into your processes and complete transparency with consumers. That means pushing beyond feel-good marketing to a fully integrated interdepartmental execution. It requires collaboration across many teams, from sourcing and sustainability, to store managers and marketing leaders. Winning requires sustainability be part of your short-and long-term strategic planning from start to finish.

Investing in sustainability is undoubtedly an individual journey for retailers that can be impacted by industry, geography, product portfolio, community commitments and other factors. Success comes when companies take a tailored approach consisting of multi-stakeholder engagement, cross-functional accountability and transparency at every step along the way. Given that it’s nearly impossible to predict the next consumer-driven sustainability trend, the key is to start taking steps in a sustainable direction and make consumers aware of the steps your company is taking.

Carman Allison is vice-president of consumer insights at Nielsen in Toronto. This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’September/October issue.


Sobeys to remove plastic bags from all stores next year as retailers go green

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 10.08.06 PMShoppers at Sobeys Inc. grocery stores will soon need to bring their own totes or lug their purchases home in paper bags as the chain moves to phase out plastic bags by February 2020.

Canadians go through hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores each year, and the chains – most of which charge a nominal fee for plastic bags – are facing pressure from increasingly eco-conscious consumers to do more to eliminate their plastic-centric packaging.

Sobeys said it is making the move to phase out plastic bags as a response to calls from customers and employees to use less plastic. The retailer also committed to launch programs to reduce plastic in other areas of the stores.

“We really felt that the amount of avoidable plastic in grocery stores is shocking,” said Vittoria Varalli, the company’s vice-president of sustainability. The change will eliminate 225 million bags used annually at Sobeys 255 stores.

The company, which is owned by Stellarton, N.S.-based Empire Co. Ltd, will phase out plastic bags and introduce paper bags at its other banners soon after. Sobeys also operates Safeway, Thrifty Foods, IGA, Foodland, Freshco and Farm Boy. It boasts more than 1,500 stores across all its chains.

“The ultimate goal,” said Varalli, is to eliminate plastic bags from the produce aisle as well. It plans to introduce a line of reusable mesh alternatives made from recycled bottles in August.

Food companies have been on a mission to reduce plastic from their operations recently as consumers push for more sustainable practices. Some are taking initiatives to change ahead of the federal government’s announced ban on single-use plastics by 2021, which would force them to find non-plastic alternatives.

Last year, restaurants responded to pressure to eliminate plastic straws after a video showing someone removing a straw stuck up a turtle’s nose went viral.

Starbucks, A&W and other chains made promises to remove the item from their eateries, and some have already done so.

But the trend toward sustainability didn’t stop at straws. Many fast-food giants started experimenting with other green packaging. In June, McDonald’s Canada announced it would test wooden cutlery and other recycling-friendly containers at two restaurants.

“I think they’re trying to respond to popular concern,” said Vito Buonsante, plastics program manager at the advocacy organization Environmental Defence, of grocers’ efforts to reduce plastic waste by targeting plastic bags.

In coastal regions, plastic bags create a major environmental problem, he said, where they persist for a long time and harm wildlife.

Despite the fact that Canadians use about 2.86 billion plastic bags a year, Buonsante sees them as “low-hanging fruit” that people easily can do without.

Grocery stores are slowly starting to get on board with the push to eliminate single-use plastics.

Metro Inc. announced earlier this year it would start allowing consumers to use reusable containers to store fresh products, such as those from the deli and pastry counters, at its Quebec stores.

In May, the company committed to cut its use of single-use plastic bags in half by the end of its 2023 financial year. It also said it wants to reduce the amount of produce bags used by 10 per cent by the end of its 2020 financial year.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., meanwhile, started charging five cents per plastic bag about a decade ago and reduced the number of plastic bags used in its stores by nearly 12 billion, wrote spokesperson Catherine Thomas in an email.

It has donated $10 million to the World Wildlife Fund with some of the proceeds as of the end of 2018. Thomas declined to provide the total amount the company has made by charging for plastic bags.

Meanwhile, customers seeking greener grocery pastures have given rise to niche no-waste markets across Canada.

“Change is kind of happening,” said Buonsante, but – for the most part – these initiatives are limited in effectiveness.

A five-cent bag fee is not a strong deterrent, he said, and companies should create incentives to help shoppers shift their habits.

Governments around the world have started to crack down on single-use plastics to force companies into change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June that his government is starting the regulatory work to ban toxic single-use plastics because the garbage infiltrating the world’s waterways is out of hand.

Nothing is going to be banned overnight, with the process to implement a federal ban or limitations on a product under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act usually taking two to four years. The goal is to make decisions on everything on the list by 2021.

Trudeau said Canada’s plan will “closely mirror” that of Europe. In March, the European Parliament agreed that by 2021 the European Union will ban almost a dozen single-use products including plastic plates, cutlery, cups, straws, plastic sticks in cotton swabs, balloon sticks and stir sticks, and Styrofoam cups and take-out food containers. Oxo-degradeable plastics including plastic grocery bags, which break down into tiny pieces with exposure to air but never fully disappear, are also to be banned.