Plastic ban is another headache for already overwhelmed Toronto restaurant owners
A new federal ban on certain plastic products recently came into effect and is adding just one more thing for already busy and overwhelmed Toronto restaurant management and owners to worry about.
As of December 2022, there is a prohibition on the import and manufacture of plastic specifically single-use checkout bags, cutlery and foodservice ware made from hard-to-recycle materials. The prohibition of ring carriers, stir sticks and straws will be implemented at a later time point.
Phased approaches to the sale of these items will continue to come into effect until 2025, allowing businesses enough time to transition and to deplete their current stock.
However, this will likely be a difficult task for many businesses since diners have favoured doing delivery and take-out over dining in the past three years.
"Single-use items pose a unique challenge for foodservice operators, as Canadians are increasingly turning to delivery and takeout," read a report about the changes from Restaurants Canada.
For Ben Slan of Benny's Barbecue on Yonge Street, the transition to compostable plastics was a working plan he had set in motion some time ago.
"I knew this was going to happen months ago. 70 per cent [of our orders] are takeout and we buy tons of takeout containers, cutlery, and plastic deli containers, so I planned for it," he told blogTO.
"We raised our prices four months ago to offset costs," Slan says. "In the meantime, we bought cheaper plastic stuff [that will] last us a little while."
Benny's will go through their existing stock of plastics, sharing that once their final cutlery set and takeout container is sent through the doors, the compostable stock kicks in.
Of course, stronger compostable containers hefty enough to carry one pound of brisket or a full rack of baby back ribs come with a higher price tag.
Slan gives us the example of takeout bags which have to be able to hold the load of orders: He says that paper bags are four or five times more expensive than plastic, and the weight limit it's able to handle might not be the same.
Customers may not realize that insignificant matters like bags or bamboo forks may actually end up costing businesses a pretty penny.
"These little numbers matter," said Slan.
Colin Li of Hong Shing Restaurant on Dundas Street near St. Patrick subway station is in the same boat as Slan, as is the majority of the restaurant industry.
"We are currently using the last batches of our plastic containers and cutlery as we are sourcing biodegradable and compostable plastics or alternatives," he tells blogTO.
Already switching from plastic bags to paper carriers last year, Li now has to source appropriate options for cutlery and containers.
Unfortunately, it's not as easy as you might think.
It's not just restaurants that have to switch their products; manufacturers have to first make these takeout options available to them.
"Buying new sustainable plastic options is still difficult as our suppliers are in a transition phase [of being able] to provide these new options at stock levels that we need for our business," he said.
While some manufacturers may already be offering compostable alternates like the one Benny's uses, it's harder to secure them in large volumes.
"We are looking into these sustainable options as soon as a larger selection is offered," Li tells blogTO.
For Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality, which has over 25 restaurants across the country, a similar situation is also unfolding.
"We have been working to eliminate all single-use plastics from our operations for quite some time now," said Theresa Suraci, director of marketing and communications.
"For takeout requirements, we've moved to bamboo cutlery, wood spikes, paper straws and non-plastic takeout containers. With respect to the containers, we continue to search for the most environmentally friendly options available as this landscape continues to evolve with greener options."
As for concerns about the practicality of new sustainable options, Li says he's not 100 per cent sure what will successfully house his meals, often coming from a fiery wok straight into a takeout dish.
It's basically an experiment that could have huge financial implications.
"If the alternatives do not work out, we might have to adjust our operations to the options available," he says.
According to The Guidance for Selecting Alternatives to Single-use Plastics published by the Government of Canada, there are some other options businesses can consider when looking for alternatives.
For cutlery, they suggest "giving consumers the option to decide if they require single-use cutlery at all," and charging them a "visible fee for single-use cutlery."
While restaurants would still have to purchase cutlery sets to begin with, these suggestions might help from buying more in the future.
All of these changes aim to eliminate the use of harmful plastics in our world.
According to Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization, Canadians produce an estimated 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, of which only eight per cent gets recycled. (A whopping86 per cent of Canada's plastic waste ends up in the landfill.)
But will this change actually do enough to reduce this ridiculously high number? For some, the answer is a strong 'no.'
Oceana states that "bioplastics present many of the same issues as traditional fossil fuel-based plastics," which often rely on fossil fuels for production and do not rapidly biodegrade under natural conditions, like the ocean.
"The vast majority of bioplastics are not compostable in your backyard composter, meaning they can only be processed in special industrial compost facilities, which are few and far between," they say.
A press release from the organization issued last December said this prohibition covers less than one per cent of plastics used in Canada and should be expanded to include styrofoam cups and drink covers.
Either way, it shouldn't be the sole responsibility of food businesses to partake in these changes. Perhaps it's time we as a society find more long-term solutions that don't involve throwing out something after it's been used for like five minutes.
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