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Straws, stir sticks and bags among first targets of countrywide plastics ban

shutterstock_700694767Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says six single-use plastic items that aren’t easily recycled and already have more environmentally friendly alternatives will be the first to go under Canada’s new restrictions on plastics.

That means the end of next year will be the end of the road for plastic straws, stir sticks, carry-out bags, cutlery, dishes and takeout containers and six-pack rings for cans and bottles.

Wilkinson says many of the items that aren’t on that list, such as plastic bottles, will be getting new standards to require them to contain a minimum amount of recycled material.

He says there is also a push to standardize how plastic items are made, from the types and amounts of plastic used to the dyes and adhesives, so recycling them is easier.

The Alberta government announced Tuesday it wants to become a hub for Canada’s expanding recycling industry.

Canada currently recycles less than 10% of the three million tonnes of plastic it produces each year, and along with the provinces has set a goal of have zero plastic waste ending up in landfills by 2030.

“There is an enormous amount of opportunity for improvement,” said Wilkinson, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Canada intends to add plastics to a list of toxic items under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and is issuing a discussion paper on the banned items and recycled content standards and other plans.

Wilkinson said the aim is to have everything in place by the end of next year.

A 2019 report commissioned by Environment Canada found Canada’s recycling industry was hampered by cost and access. It is cheaper and easier to produce new plastic than it is to recycle it, reuse it or repair it, and without minimum standards requiring the use of recycled content, the market for recycled plastic was small.

The report said in 2016, Canadians threw 3.3 million tonnes of plastic away, 12 times what was recycled.

It said there were fewer than a dozen recycling companies in Canada, employing about 500 people with about $350 million in revenue between them.

Until recently, Canada and most other wealthy nations shipped much of the recyclable plastic tossed in their blue bins across the ocean to Asia. China in particular was the biggest buyer of the items, which were recycled into plastic pellets used in its massive manufacturing sector.

But China slammed the door shut to that option at the beginning of 2018, tired of being the world’s garbage dump. So much of the material arriving by the shipload could not be recycled and ended up in landfills in China instead.

Canada will join dozens of nations that have enacted various bans on single-use plastics. The United Kingdom just began enforcing a ban on straws, stir sticks and plastic-stemmed cotton buds just last week.

France began phasing in a ban in January, starting with plastic plates, cups and cotton buds. Straws and cutlery will be added in 2021, and tea bags, fast-food toys and takeout containers in 2022.

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Cause for concern

Even in these times, barely a day goes by where there’s not a dire warning about the environmental predicament the planet faces. Climate change, for many, is no longer about what might happen, but rather what is happening. Extreme events ranging from hurricanes to rampant bush fires are becoming the norm. For Canadians, this raises the question of how their food purchases impact the environment.

Mintel’s recent report on Sustainability in Food looks at how Canadians view the connection between what they eat and the impact of that on the environment. The research also looks at what specific issues matter most to consumers, why they matter, what consumers expect from companies in the context of sustainability, and what actions they are willing to take.

Canadians do, indeed, say the environment matters to them when it comes to the food and drinks they purchase, and they are particularly motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and a pervasive concern about climate change. That said, Canadians don’t always make a clear connection between climate change and the food they eat; instead, waste ranks as their top concern—this includes both packaging waste and food waste. Fewer Canadians, however, consider carbon output when purchasing food. This makes sense because waste, of course, is visibly evident in one’s day-to-day life. It can be seen in one’s trash, recycling or compost bin, and also translates, in the consumer’s mind, to wasted money. Carbon generated through food production, by contrast, is invisible.

Younger Canadians are, however, more likely to make the connection between how their food is produced and the carbon footprint it generates, and they are more apt to express concerns over these categories. For instance, the younger generations—gen Zs and millennials—are more likely to be concerned about the impact of meat and dairy on the environment; we can presume this relates to the carbon emissions associated with the production of these products. Such concerns have undoubtedly underpinned the growth of plant-based foods and drinks.

More broadly, companies are in a quandary when it comes to their efforts to support the environment. On one hand, four in five Canadians agree that food and beverage companies are not doing enough for the environment. On the other hand, the same number of Canadians believe many companies engage in “greenwashing” and believe them to be untruthful regarding environmental claims. There’s also an element of confusion, with 80% of Canadians also claiming they’re confused when it comes to knowing which products are better or worse for the environment. The question is how to win consumers’ trust?

While there’s no easy answer to this question, initiatives that are visible and engaging can help build their level of trust. One practical way is to ensure shoppers can easily recycle the packaging from the products they purchase. This can include making them compostable or communicating a plan to extend the lifecycle of a package through “upcycling” initiatives. Other initiatives can involve using foods that would have otherwise been discarded in new packaged goods (for example, misshapen potato chips) or focusing on foods produced locally, which offers the dual benefit of supporting the environment and local economies.

When it comes to promoting sustainability in food, there are no shortcuts. But what is evident is that despite some skepticism, shoppers do view sustainability as an issue influencing their food and drink purchase decisions.

Joel Gregoire is a food and beverage industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter 

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s May 2020 issue.


EV promo

New government program funds alternative fuel infrastructure

Funding available for service stations, convenience stores and car washes

EV promoThe Government of Canada is putting more buzz into the country’s zero-emission infrastructure with a new program (launched February 2020) that puts cash in the hands of facility site developers.

Run by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Initiative is a $182.5 million program designed to support the establishment of a coast-to-coast charging network for electric vehicles, natural gas stations along key freight corridors and stations for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in metropolitan centres.

The program will also support the demonstration of next-generation charging technologies as well as host the development of binational (Canada and the United States) codes and standards for low-carbon vehicles and infrastructure.

The program is available to individuals and legal entities that are incorporated or registered in Canada and include both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations. These include a range of groups such as utilities, indigenous and community groups, provincial and municipal departments and agencies as well as private businesses such as service stations, convenience stores and car washes.

Eligible projects include permanent installations serving on-road vehicles that increase current capacity. Sites must be open to the public at all times for EV (Electric Vehicle) fast-chargers and as appropriate for natural gas and hydrogen refuelling stations and offer at least one payment option free of any network membership requirement.

Sites must be completed 18 months after the receipt of the Letter of Conditional Approval for EV fast chargers and two years after the receipt of the Letter of Conditional Approval for natural gas and hydrogen refuelling stations. Applicants must demonstrate at least 50% of secured funding of their share of the project costs; demonstrate that they engaged with the energy supplier where the project will be built and own the land, have access to the land for at least ten years or demonstrate that they can obtain the access to the site for at least ten years where the project will be built.

What’s available under the program? NRCan’s repayable contribution through this program will be limited to a maximum of $5 million per project. For EV fast chargers, the program will pay up to 50% of the total project costs to a maximum of $50,000 per charging unit. For natural gas and hydrogen refuelling stations, the program will pay up to 50% of the total project costs to a maximum of $1 million per refuelling station.

EV fast charger projects located in British Columbia and selected for funding under NRCan’s initiative are automatically eligible for non-repayable provincial funding. The B.C. Clean Energy Vehicle Public Fast Charging Program is funding 25% of the total project costs up to a maximum of $25,000 per EV fast chargers.

 For more information visit www.nrcan.gc.ca


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Quebec to expand deposit system to cover all drink containers by 2022

Quebec will expand its deposit system to include different kinds of alcohol and beverage containers in an effort to recycle more products and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

The province announced its plan Thursday – set to begin by late 2022 – that will see a deposit charged to a wide variety of containers ranging in size from 100 millilitres to two litres, whether the bottles are made of plastic, glass or metal.

The government intends for a simple system that shouldn’t require too much of consumers to change their habits, with an estimated 400 privately run drop-off points, said Environment Minister Benoit Charrette.

“In one depot or one store, where the technology will be available, they will be able to bring back all their materials,” Charrette said in St-Sauveur, Que., where the Coalition Avenir Quebec are holding a caucus meeting.

“We want the system as simple of possible because we need results, and the industry has a lot of interest to put in place a simple system because they will have to respect some specific goals as soon as 2025.”

The plan is to charge 25 cents for wine and spirits bottles and 10 cents for other bottles, including plastic water bottles, fruit juices and milk jugs.

Officials project more than four billion containers will be returned annually, including more than one billion plastic water bottles.

Recyc-Quebec, a government corporation, will oversee the implementation of the new returnable container recovery system, but the companies that market the containers will have to present a deposit management plan within a year.

Quebec will aim to recover and recycle 75% of returnable containers by 2025 and 90% by 2030, with the government establishing targets and penalties if they’re not reached.

The announcement was applauded by environmental groups including Equiterre, which said the expansion of the system make sense for environmental, social and economic reasons.

“As we seek to move towards a circular economy, a deposit refund system helps us view used containers as resources rather than waste,” said executive director Colleen Thorpe. “By transforming perceptions and habits, we can help reintegrate these items into the manufacturing cycle by sorting at the source, which in turn makes these resources more valuable.”

Greenpeace Canada said beer bottle collection has shown to be beneficial and welcome the plan, but the group urged the Legault government to fight against single-use plastic and seek more ambitious measures like banning water bottles.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has repeatedly raised concerns about expanding the deposit system, said it believes curbside recycling already in place is the best for recovering single-use beverage containers, though it will participate in the design of the new system.

The Quebec Union of Municipalities applauded the measure but urged a reform of the entire recovery and recycling system in Quebec, with a focus on making producers responsible.

It also expressed support for the province as it navigates a waste-management crisis involving collection and sorting services affecting 26 municipalities.

Groupe RSC, a subsidiary of French firm TIRU, announced it would be pulling out of operations in four plants it operates across the province – two in the Montreal area, one in Chateauguay and another in Saguenay – “due to the collapse of the world market for recycled paper.”

The company has said it has encountered “great difficulties linked to the economic model of its sorting centres” with financial losses in recent years.

The Quebec government said this week the facilities will maintain operations in the short term until new operators can be found.

 

 


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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.”