What exactly is StopPlastics asking of the City of Toronto and where and how does the federal government come into the discussion on single-use plastic?
Summary: We think it is great that both the federal and municipal governments are working towards fixing the single use plastic problem but we need to move on more than just the items listed…we need to include, plastic beverage bottles, cigarette filters, those dental floss holders, plastic smoking tips(tar traps), produce bags. We need to keep moving forward, not just become complacent with banning just the few items.
NOTICE: In November 2023 the federal policy to designate plastic as a toxic substance was struck down. Ottawa is appealing that decision. We are unsure whether this will affect the prohibition of the six plastic items noted below.
Meanwhile, the federal government launched consultation around creating a national plastics registry to track the lifecycle of plastic items in the economy stating that this will be an important tool plastic reduction.
The proposed federal guidelines to deal with plastic pollution and waste are simply a jumping off point. The guidelines chiefly address plastic take-away food items, to the exclusion of the myriad of other types of single use plastics such as potato chip bags and candy wrappers, caps and lids, cigarette butts, cigarillo tips and marijuana and vaping paraphernalia, water and pop bottles, etc. The 6 items they have addressed have been dealt with skillfully, in that the government has not only proposed to implement bans, but also plans to prohibit the manufacture, import and export of these 6 items .
Here’s what the federal government has proposed:
Figure 1 Government of Canada https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/managing-reducing-waste/reduce-plastic-waste/single-use-plastic-overview.html
These prohibitions are important; they are what StopPlastics has been advocating for, at least as part of a first step. Further, the move to prohibit these items has been enhanced by the listing of plastic as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, although this is being challenged by some of the big players in the plastics industry who are suing the federal government. The last time we checked (May 15th, 2023) the matter was still before the courts. Unfortunately, these prohibitions are only a drop in the bucket as far as plastic pollution goes. The Government reports that: “ By prohibiting 6 categories of single-use plastics, the Regulations are projected to reduce plastic pollution by 5% and plastic waste by 3% by 2030”. Unfortunately the federal government proposes to deal with the other 97% of plastic waste through recycling. Recycling has been touted as the solution to plastic pollution forever; this strategy has failed dismally.
The City of Toronto
The list of single-use items that the City decided to address largely mirrors those targeted by the federal government, however the City proposed enhancing the federal ban by imposing fees on single use bags (both paper and plastic). They also proposed an ask first/by request approach to deal with single-use accessory items such as straws, utensils, condiment packets, stir sticks, napkins, etc. It’s disappointing to see that the proposal to impose a fee on single use cups has been replaced with the much weaker “ask-first/by request” measure as has the fee on disposable shopping bags. The new bylaw (as of March 2024) will enforce the acceptance of reusable shopping bags and reusable beverage cups provided by customers at retail business establishments.
Stage 3 of the City’s Reduction Strategy is to:
Expand the Single-Use and Takeaway Items By-law to include:
- large venues in Toronto;
- the acceptance of reusable food containers provided by customers at retail business establishments; and
- a requirement for retail business establishment operators to use reusable food containers and beverage cups in their dine-in operations in Toronto.
Encouraging in all of this is the City’s willingness to explore the possibility of imposing bans early in 2024!
Current proposed approach(November 2023)
Previous proposed approach:
While StopPlastics appreciates the attention to plastic pollution that has been paid by all levels of government, the omnipresence of plastic necessitates legislation that all non-essential plastic be prohibited. The federal government should employ the precautionary principle and place the burden of proof on manufacturers by obligating them to prove that their goods require the use of plastic.
The City should also employ stronger measures to limit the use of plastic with the goal of eventually prohibiting all non-essential plastic starting with the single use items flagged in the study commissioned by City staff by the consultant Strategy Matters its report “Technical Memorandum No.1 – Single-use and Takeaway Reduction Strategies”. Although it may seem redundant, the City should ban thefollowing items as federal prohibitions may be imperiled by court challenges or by changes in government and because the the scope of these prohibitions is insufficient:
- Plastic bags (all weights and types). The federal ban only addresses carrying bags—it doesn’t cover produce bags for example
- Cold cups and lids (missing from the federal ban; aluminum can can be recycled an infinite no. of times)
- Plastic bottles and caps (missing from the federal ban)
- Plastic straws
- Plastic cutlery
- Single-use EPS, which includes cups, clamshells and plates
- Plastic food containers
- Hot cups (take-out coffee cups not only have plastic liners but estimates suggest that Canadians use between 1.6 and 2 billion disposable coffee cups a year. These represent up to 35,000 tonnes of paper, made from more than 70,000 tonnes of raw wood, harvested from thousands of hectares of forest. ” Canadian Geographic.
- Black plastic
- Condiment packets
In addition the City should prohibit the items below. Not only have StopPlastics’ volunteers found these by the hundreds in clean-ups but they are also on the watch list of the Strategy Matters study.
- Cigarette filters Cigarette packaging
- Wet wipes
- Cotton bud sticks
- Balloon sticks
- Cigarillo tips, vaping devices and marijuana paraphernalia—although not on the Strategy Matters’ list a new, huge concern.
A timely reminder to act now was implicit in a recent report by the Province of Ontario’s Auditor General that noted: “In central Lake Ontario, microplastic levels in sediments were measured to be approximately 4.7 billion particles per square kilometre, a concentration more than twenty thousand times greater than the average abundance of microplastics per square kilometre in the surface waters.”
– Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. The State of the Environment in Ontario. May 2023.
In conclusion: Banning single-use plastic is:
- Step #1, a starting point.
- Step #2. We must set our sights on banning “disposable” plastic next.
- Step #3. We must tackle non-essential plastics.
Bold action required!