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How a single use plastics bans will effect Canadian convenience

CTM-Inbound-Blog-June2019-SingleUsePlastic-FIn 2019, the Government of Canada announced a plan to ban single-use plastics in this country by 2021. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is a dire crisis that requires action.

“You’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos,” he said. “To be honest, as a dad it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam-packed with plastic bags? “How do I tell them that against all odds, you will find plastic at the very deepest point in the Pacific Ocean?”

The government announcement did not provide a detailed list of banned items. Trudeau indicated this would be forthcoming, based on scientific evidence. However, the Prime Minister did give examples of items in their sites: including several that would directly impact Canadian convenience stores.

1. Replacing plastic drinking straws

When a heartbreaking video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose went viral in 2015, it became a rallying point for a ban on single-use plastics. Starbucks and several other companies soon announced they would no longer be carrying plastic straws. It is a trend that does not appear to be waning.

In Canada alone, it is estimated close to 50 million straws are used daily. Whether a ban goes through or not, c-store owners would be wise to start looking at options: including paper, bamboo, biodegradable silicone and other materials.

2. Options to plastic cups, lids, plates, utensils and stir sticks

While cups were not specifically mentioned, all of these other items were listed by Trudeau as likely item to be banned – all of which figure quiet prominently in the average c-store operation. It is predicted there would be pressure to include polystyrene cups and plates as well.

Paper cups and plates are a logical option, as are wooden stir sticks. Products made of palm leaves and sugarcane exist. Companies around the world have even developed biodegradable, organic alternatives (some of which are edible).

3. Rethinking packaging

It has been speculated that plastic sandwich bags and plastic wrap could be included in a ban. This may affect how fresh items such as sandwiches are packaged. Disposable plastic and Styrofoam packaging may also be in the crosshairs of any ban. Expect to see paper and cardboard packaging pick up the slack.

4. Eliminating plastic bags

Up to 15 billion plastic bags are used in Canada each year. Many leading retailers have been charging customers for plastic bags for years (although most consumers shrug and pay the nickel). An outright ban would require consumers to change their mindset, and keep reusable bags handy. C-store may have to keep a supply in stock (a potential new revenue stream!)

5. Greater recycling of plastic bottles

The ocean is literally littered with plastic bottles. Organizations such as Greenpeace are calling for the phaseout of throwaway plastics – including disposable bottles. Water bottles, in particular, raise the ire of activists, as alternatives are easily available. Yet these bottles are easily recyclable.

While it is unclear what Canada would do, in the European Union, the focus is on increasing recycling more bottles vs. a ban – with a target of recycling 90% of plastic bottles by 2025. In Canada, it is estimated 65 million water bottles end up in landfills each year.

McDonald’s Canada takes an early leadership role

If you suppose the shift will be gradual, think again.

Following the PM’s declaration, McDonald’s Canada announced its first “Green Concept Restaurants” as part of its sustainability journey.

Their goal is to source 100% of all guest packaging from renewable and/or recycled materials. Two restaurants in Vancouver and London (ON) will serve as the testing ground for these packaging and recycling initiatives.

Initial packaging innovations will include Canada’s first recyclable paper cup for cold beverages, recyclable wood fiber lids (that actually double as a straw!), wooden cutlery and paper straws.

“Our Green Concept Restaurants are an exciting new innovation as part of our on-going sustainable journey,” says John Betts, President, and CEO at McDonald’s Canada.

“They are an example of how we’re able to use our scale for good and keep raising the bar on what it means to be a responsible company committed to people and the planet.”

According to James Downham, president, and CEO, PAC Packaging Consortium, when category leaders such McDonald’s spearhead change, you can be sure the shift will be felt across the industry as packaging companies jump to respond.

“We’re in a game-changing moment as industries across the planet evolve to offer consumers more sustainable packaging options. It’s incredible to see leading organizations such as McDonald’s lead the way to catalyze this change by trying new, innovative solutions to operate more sustainably and tend to our planet.”

An issue worth following

At this point, the Canadian plastic ban is merely a policy announcement. Regardless, consumers are increasingly choosing to support businesses that operate in an environmentally responsible manner. With juggernauts like McDonald’s staking their future on sustainability, the onus will be on the convenience store industry and its suppliers to adapt.

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Starbucks goals for sustainability will require significant consumer buy in

UnknownStarbucks has an ambitious plan to reduce its environmental footprint, albeit one it acknowledges will require considerable buy-in from its customers.

The Seattle-based coffee chain committed to three preliminary targets for 2030, including cutting by half its carbon emissions from direct operations and its supply chain, the waste it sends to landfills and water used in direct operations and coffee production.

Corporate environmental commitments such as these often require consumers to change their behaviours, experts say, which is possible with the right incentives, but need to steer clear of the appearance of self-interest.

“We are committed to making our materials compostable and recyclable, but we know that ultimately, we need to enable consumers everywhere to move to reusable cups and utensils,” said Rebecca Zimmer, director of global responsibility at Starbucks, in an email.

Starbucks is the latest large company to announce lofty environmental goals. Several airlines recently turned to carbon offsets, which invest in projects to compensate for their emissions output, and Maple Leaf Foods claimed in November that it is now carbon neutral.

An assessment on Starbucks’s operations found that it emitted 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, withdrew one billion cubic metres of water and emitted 868 kilotonnes of waste across its full value chain in 2018.

Its mitigation strategies include expanding its plant-based options to migrate toward a more environmentally friendly menu and shifting from single-use to reusable packaging.

One potential option is to sway people away from cow’s milk toward plant-based alternatives such as nut and oat milks, said Zimmer, in an interview. Dairy is responsible for 21% of the company’s global carbon footprint, according to a company report, edging out coffee and waste for the top spot.

Oat milk, in particular, seems to have a better environmental footprint, she said. Starbucks offers oat milk at some U.S. locations as a test, but has not yet made it available at any of its roughly 1,600 Canadian stores.

The company also aspires to have the majority of its customers arrive with mugs and cutlery in hand rather than rely on takeaway cups and disposable utensils, she said.

Just how the company will achieve those goals remains unknown and Starbucks will spend the year conducting market research and trials to determine specific plans.

It’s not easy to change ingrained behaviour, said Katherine White, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

“The big problem is usually that people just forget,” when it comes to bringing a coffee tumbler from home, she said, but with the right motivation it’s possible to teach people to form new habits.

One strategy is to offer rewards or punishments. Many grocery stores, for example, charge a fee for plastic bags. Starbucks, meanwhile, discounts drinks by 10 cents if customers bring their own cup.

The size of these incentives or fees matters, said White, adding five and 10 cents does little to change consumer behaviour.

A punishment could prompt backlash, she said, but Starbucks could offer a more substantial reward, such as an entry into a draw for free coffee for a month.

It’s not unreasonable to ask consumers to bring in mugs or consider oat milk, but it’s more serious if Starbucks commits to changing the economics of that proposition “in a really substantial way for consumers,” said Sarah Kaplan, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“If they made it so it was really substantially meaningful that would actually drive consumer behaviour,” she said.

Starbucks could charge consumers more for cow’s milk rather than an upcharge for dairy alternatives, she said.

“You want it to not … look just completely self-interested,” she added, noting Starbucks will likely be selling lots of reusable mugs in store.

While Starbucks has yet to determine just how it will get consumers on board with its vision, Zimmer thinks its future vision is possible.

“If I think broadly into the future, I do believe that as a society we’re going to be making choices that are better for the planet, and so I do see pretty significant shifts: the way we live, the way we consume and the way we basically lead our daily lives.”