black plastic

Toronto sushi restaurants the latest targets in use of black plastic

In the wake of the mass revelation that black plastic can't be recycled, restaurants and cafes in Toronto have begun making moves to go plastic-free.

Over 80 restaurants in the city have decided to go straw-less, and a handful of cafes have begun using recyclable coffee cup lids instead of the black plastic kind.

But other purveyors of black plastic in the industry have yet to make the jump to more eco-friendly packaging.

Japanese restaurants serving party trays of sashimi and California rolls to-go use black plastic containers on the regular but it seems none have caught on to the trend of switching over to recyclable packaging. 

Several sushi businesses in Toronto (who asked not to be named) stated they had no idea that their takeout boxes were ending up in the landfill. 

According to Sean Akiyama, who's parents run the seafood market and sushi takeout spot Taro's Fish, the black plastic takeout containers are industry standard. 

"I didn't know it was not recyclable," he says. And while a switch over to biodegradable packaging might be on the horizon, some of the onus also rests on the customers who buy their sushi to go.  

"Most of the customers are just throwing them in the trash, so even if you did make it recyclable it wouldn't really help," he says. 

On top of that, many sushi tray suppliers don't even offer biodegradable options.

Tray Solutions Inc., an independent wholesaler on Pharmacy Avenue, has been supplying restaurants with takeout containers for nearly six years and only deals in plastic. 

According to owner Daniel Ahn, biodegradable sushi trays are 40 percent more expensive than the regular black plastic kind – a cost which his "tiny independent business" can't swallow. 

"Small business owners want to keep it simple and they don't want to take any risks," he says. Eco-friendly boxes made of paper or bamboo are also much heavier than cheap black plastic, which Daniel says can be a problem for storage. 

And though Tray Solutions does offer some clear plastic options that can be recycled, he says larger suppliers like Nishimoto are better positioned to stock both plastic and biodegradable options. 

The American distributor of Japanese supplies MTC Kitchen, for example, offers packaging that's better better for the environment, but for a pretty penny. 

MTC's site sells one pack of 50 black plastic trays for $10.92 CAD, however, for the same quantity of boxes made of recyclable wheat straw fibre, it costs $13.36. 

In a city with well over a hundred Japanese takeout spots, that extra toonie and change can be the ultimate deal-breaker for small restaurants trying to break even.

Unless businesses start seeing public demand for it, details like recyclability will likely continue to fall to the wayside where money is concerned. 

"Some [environmentally] conscious owners may not care about the cost," says Daniel. But as of right now, he says, most businesses do.  

Lead photo by

Sushi Karu


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