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How two tiny Canadian communities ditched single-use plastics

CTM-Inbound-Blog-June2019-SingleUsePlastic-FTwo tiny B.C. island communities are well ahead of the curve when it comes to the federal government’s move to ban single-use plastics.

The Liberal government said earlier this month that plastic grocery store bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and takeout food containers made from hard-to-recycle plastics will be phased out by the end of 2021.

The move was a step towards the federal government’s goal to have zero plastic waste by 2030.

The six items were targeted first because they’re readily found in the environment and often not recycled, and available alternatives exist, said federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

But most of the items on Ottawa’s plastic hit list are already pretty much non-existent on Quadra and Cortes islands, two small coastal communities wedged between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.

Businesses on Quadra abandoned single-use plastic bags close to a decade ago, and most use biodegradable or recyclable takeout products, said Susan Westren of Sierra Quadra, an environmental group on the island.

“We’ve left everyone in the dust, and we did it a long time ago,” said Westren, adding nobody mandated the move to reduce plastic waste on Quadra.

“All it took was a small number of people to organize this, but in bigger centres, I guess that’s not possible.”

Westren and Sierra Quadra members Judy Leicester and Robyn Budd approached all the businesses on the island and held a community forum to get input on the proposed change.

Though there was a bit of initial reluctance from grocery stores, the businesses agreed to carry the reusable bags the group had designed.

In addition to bringing in the recyclable bags, Tru Value Foods stores made the switch to paper grocery bags as well.

Both consumers and businesses on the island adapted to the change readily, said Westren.

“I think it’s because there’s terrific social and environmental consciousness on this island, and because we were so persuasive,” she said.

Quadra restaurants were also prepared when there was a big shift to takeout food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I must say that the island has been pretty amazing in terms of using biodegradable takeout containers, coffee cups and those sort of things. Except the lids, but they can be recycled,” Westren said.

“I think that is also unusual because they’ve been doing that for quite a long time as well, and thank goodness, now that COVID-19 is with us, there’s been so much more (container) use.”

Dave Tolley, co-owner of Cafe Aroma on Quadra, agreed the pandemic has driven up demand for single-use containers dramatically.

But Tolley figures he’s already in compliance with the future ban because he has biodegradable takeout products in place.

And he’s also constantly on the hunt for more environmentally friendly products, despite the added cost.

“It’s a personal choice for us,” he said, adding that as a consumer himself, he considers packaging when buying products.

“I just don’t want something that’s not going to break down,” Tolley said.

“And as far as the cost, we’re always trying to find the best product, and then research how to make it more financially viable.”

Even selecting items for the cafe’s menu takes into account the takeout packaging they’d need, he said.

Tolley agrees with the federal plastics ban which he believes will encourage manufacturing changes and better recycling systems, and adds it’s not an onerous change for most restaurants.

“I’m surprised (the list) was as limited as it was,” Tolley said.

The long delay in implementing the plastic ban is probably because the government understands the huge financial hit the restaurant industry has experienced with the pandemic, Tolley added.

“I mean, if your business has been hammered hard enough, and you’re just trying to save costs anywhere you can, keeping the doors open might be temporarily more important than paying extra for packaging,” he said.

Eric Hargrave, general manager of Cortes Natural Food Co-op, said one of the co-op’s original goals was to reduce packaging. The business constantly looks for ways to reduce waste _ plastic or otherwise _ in the store, bakery and cafe, he said.

The co-op doesn’t have single-use grocery bags, and other stores on the island don’t use them either, Hargrave said.

While the co-op makes great effort to find environmentally friendly packaging to replace plastic, truly green products – from the start of the production cycle to the end of use – are still scarce, he added.

The co-op relies on paper bags, cardboard boxes, glass jars, waxed paper and recyclable cutlery for most of its food items, but all of them have certain limitations, he added.

For example, the store did a trial run of containers made from steamed leaves, but the product didn’t come with a lid, Hargrave said.

The co-op also uses cups and takeout containers that are considered compostable, but that’s tricky on an island without an industrial facility, he said.

“They don’t really work here because most people use their home composts, and those can’t go in there,” he said.

Of the limited ecological packaging choices available, fewer still are affordable and accessible to businesses on a remote island, he added.

With COVID-19 still driving the increased waste tied to the takeaway market, the co-op is considering shifting to cutlery made from birch trees, said Hargrave.

But there’s always the problem of added cost, he noted.

“We have talked about charging for packaging, if for no other reason to make people aware that there actually is a cost to it and discourage its use,” he said.

Tolley said while he has been proactive about trying to curb single-use plastics, most consumers want businesses to take those steps.

And customers are also probably willing to pay more if they know the packaging is environmentally friendly, he said.

“If we didn’t do it, I’m sure people on Quadra would call us out on it for sure,” Tolley said.

Plus, the last thing a restaurant or store on the island wants to see is their plastic waste or cups littering the side of the roads or highways, he said.

“That’s not the kind of marketing that any business needs.”



Pandemic to push back new climate targets, plastics ban, Wilkinson says



Canada’s national environment agenda is the latest thing to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, as plans for both beefing up national climate targets and banning some plastics are likely to be delayed.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Canadian Press this week that the government remains firmly committed to its environmental promises, which were a key part of the Liberal 2019 re-election campaign. However he acknowledged that the efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Canada will also slow the government’s ability to move on some of its environment goals.

“We’ve continued to work on a number of elements but there are some where we’ve had to delay,” Wilkinson said.

The clean fuel standard to require fuels like gasoline and diesel to burn more cleanly is being pushed back at least several months because of COVID-19. Last month the government moved the implementation date for new standards on liquid fuels like gasoline from Jan. 1, 2022, to just sometime in 2022. The proposed regulations that were to be published this spring, are not coming now until the fall.

The standard is expected to contribute about 15% of the more than 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gases Canada committed to eliminate by 2030 under the Paris climate change agreement.

But during the election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canada would go further than that and Wilkinson told the world in December that Canada’s new climate plan would be ready in time for the fall 2020 United Nations climate meetings in Scotland. That meeting, which was to be held in November, has also been a casualty of COVID-19, postponed into 2021.

Under the Paris agreement, all countries were supposed to upgrade their emissions targets this year, to bring the world more in line with what scientists say must be done to slow climate change. Thus far only seven countries have done so and Wilkinson is no longer certain Canada will produce one by the fall.

“My intention is to bring forward the updated climate plan as soon as it is reasonable to do that,” he said. “Right now we need to be focused on fighting the virus but certainly our intention and our commitment to the climate file remains very firm.”

He said the same commitment exists when it comes to single use plastics, but the virus is also intruding on that plan. In January, Environment Canada issued a draft scientific assessment confirming plastics are harmful to the environment, which was the first step towards the goal to begin banning some products. At that time, Wilkinson said the ban would absolutely begin in 2021.

But the government extended the required comment period on the scientific report by 30 days last month. It closed May 1 instead of April 1.

Wilkinson said the intention to move on a plastics ban remains but said he can’t say when.

“That is another one that has been a little bit affected by the pandemic,” said Wilkinson.

“It’s very difficult to know exactly how this is all going to sort itself out given the uncertainty of the times but we do intend to move forward on the plastics ban.”

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics campaign for Greenpeace Canada, said she is hopeful any delay will be minimal.

“We have been waiting for a long time to see the words and the election promises turn to action,” said King. “Obviously, a delay is problematic because every day that goes by, every week that goes by, every month that goes by, billions of pieces of plastic are entering our market. This is something that we need to urgently deal with.”


Retail plastic bag ban in Newfoundland and Labrador to come into effect July 1

shutterstock_1250226013e-360x240A ban on distributing retail plastic bags in Newfoundland and Labrador will come into effect on July 1.

The provincial government amended its Environmental Protection Act last April before drafting regulations and giving people time to prepare for the change.

A similar ban came into effect in Prince Edward Island last July and Nova Scotia introduced its own legislation last fall.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s government says it received 3,000 submissions during the consultation process that informed the regulations.

There are a number of exceptions, including bags used to package produce and meat, newspapers, potted plants, dry cleaning and bags intended for use at a home or business.

The government says it is working with the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment on a program to manage packaging and printed paper.

The ban is part of a growing trend across Canada as provinces and municipalities consider the use of single-use plastics and their environmental impact.


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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