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Plastics ban will have 'sizable effect' on Canada's ecosystems, expert says

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Plastic straws, bags, cutlery, stir sticks and takeout containers are being phased out in Canada starting Dec. 20.

The federal government's regulation bans the manufacturing and import for sale of plastic items. It is phase 1 of a plan to eliminate plastic waste by 2030.

Under this timeline, businesses are allowed to sell plastic items, but will need to replace them with compostable or sustainable alternatives. The sale of these items will be prohibited on Dec. 23, 2023.

Miriam Diamond, a University of Toronto earth sciences professor, told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday the legislative change will have a "sizable effect" on the environment.

"Plastic garbage, 47 per cent of that, is mostly single-use plastic," Diamond said. "So what this ban will do, it's intended to remove from the waste stream, about 30,000 tonnes of plastic, of which about 29,000 tonnes make their way into the environment."

The ban aims regulation at the foodservice and plastic manufacturing industries, which Diamond says should take the burden of the costs.

"We have not pressed the industry that is the plastics industry or the retailing industry to deal with this," Diamond said. "Rather, we have forced the taxpayer to pay for this. … We're paying for it by increasing landfills, we're increasing costs to manage all this plastic waste."

Restaurants Canada, an advocacy group for the foodservice industry wrote in a press release customers want both sustainable alternatives and convenience.

"Single-use items pose a unique challenge for foodservice operators, as Canadians are increasingly turning to delivery and takeout," the release published Dec. 15 reads. "Off-premise dining still accounts for most foodservice sales nationwide and is growing."

The organization is encouraging foodservice businesses to replace items with non-plastic alternatives including wood, paper and moulded pulp fibre.

Boaz Rachamim, president of Eisenbergs Sandwich Co. in Toronto, says the new regulation will require a "serious adjustment period" for the foodservice industry.

"I think about the transportation of a smoothie or freshly squeezed juice that comes in a plastic cup," he said on CTV News Channel on Tuesday. "What can we possibly use to transport that product, so that when the customer gets it… it's not going to spill and the presentation is going to be there."

Rachamim said his business has started making adjustments to takeout containers for sandwiches using biodegradable packaging, but liquid items remain a concern.

"I'm not sure if that's going to mean that we're going to have to change certain products that we sell," he said. "Maybe we might not have to sell smoothies for delivery anymore."

Rachamim also noted eco-friendly alternatives can be more expensive.

Critics of the ban say the legislation will add stress on the economy already fearing a recession in 2023.

"A big stress on our economy is our health," Diamond said. "Plastic gets into us, plastics is getting into animals… Our health is key to the economy, so I'm looking forward to this ban contributing to improving the health of everybody."

The federal government originally intended to start the ban by the end of 2021, but delayed the process. The regulations were published in June.

Diamond says, despite the strong legislation, the ban does fall short.

"Our manufacturers are allowed to export single-use plastics until 2025," she said. "So what I'm looking for is more accelerated action on getting rid of single-use plastics."

Diamond noted plastic packaging is not a part of the initial framework, meaning items such as wrapping paper will not be included.

Around the holiday season, Zero Waste Canada, an environmental advocacy organization, says Canadians throw about 545,000 tonnes of gift-wrapping paper or shopping bags into the landfill each year.

Canada Plastics Pact, a non-profit environmental organization, estimated Canada generated 1.89 million tonnes of plastic packaging (including wrapping paper) in 2019, of which only 12 per cent was recycled.

A ban on the manufacture and import for sale in Canada of ring carriers or six-pack rings, used to carry aluminum cans and plastic bottles, will begin on June 20, 2023. Their sale will be banned by June 20, 2024, while their manufacture, import and sale for export will be prohibited starting Dec. 20, 2025.

The sale of flexible straws with packaged beverages is not affected by this ban. The ban of this item comes into effect on June 20, 2024, and the manufacture, import and sale for export ban starts on Dec. 20, 2025. 

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