Plastics ban to start rolling out in Canada

Canada's ban on six different single use plastic items will come into effect in just over a month, but many of the changes will be rolled out slower than some seeking serious intervention on behalf of the environment would like.

Consumers have started to see items like plastic shopping bags less frequently available as businesses countrywide take steps towards reducing single use plastics to fall in line with Canada's legislation.

The ban, officially announced and published in June, asserted that six single use items -plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plastic food service wares, plastic stir sticks, and plastic ring carriers- would be outlawed in six months.

The prohibition was initially published for the purpose of feedback on Christmas Day 2021.

The changes come with a variety of subsections that lead to the ban being less comprehensive than it appears on the surface, and as of December 20 the only thing truly banned will be the manufacturing or import of the six restricted items.

The prohibition on sale for most of these items won't come into effect until the end of 2023.

Regulations don't apply to items in transit from one country to another, and won't apply to exports for three years.

Certain items are being phased out more slowly, with different targets set throughout 2024 and 2025, with a goal of minimizing harm for Canadian businesses while still meeting international commitments.

Some items like flexible plastic straws are also not banned but restricted due to their usefulness for some with disabilities, they can still be sold but regulations are meant to make them much less accessible in retail settings.

Many retail stores have started to phase out single use plastic bags in preparation for the ban.

Walmart became one of the first grocery chains to eliminate single use bags in stores when their over locations country wide officially became rid of them as of April 22.

In its marketing campaigns around eliminating bags and other single use plastics in stores, Walmart didn't acknowledge the impending mandate from the government of Canada.

While Walmart said it would launch a comprehensive customer awareness and education campaign to help transition people to bag-free, the change caught a number of frustrated customers by surprise and continues to as other stores follow suit.

The ban itself hasn't been well communicated according to some people, and the confusion around it is likely to persist as single use plastic items slowly disappear.

Jacquie Rushlow, founder of the Keep Refillery, says the ban is a welcome and overdue step but there hasn't been enough communication and education around it.

Her store in Kingston, the third refillery location opened in Ontario by Rushlow, has been focused on eliminating single use plastics as a whole and offers alternatives on a variety of household items.

Rushlow says eliminating these items doesn't have to be as frustrating or costly as people expect them to be.

She says more education is needed from the government around the plastics ban and that past the ban, consumers can make a bigger different with really small, accessible changes.

“Right now I don’t feel any support from the government whatsoever,” Rushlow said.

“What we really need help with is… how are they educating the public?”

Rushlow says education becomes a big part of The Keep's work as a business because so many people have a misconception that eliminating single use plastics has to be an expensive change.

For things like dish and laundry soap, she says consumers actually could save money by switching to a non-plastic product.

Rushlow said a refillable container of laundry detergent from the Keep ends up cheaper than name brand products.

“The common misconception is if you want to go all natural, if you want to do all the eco friendly things, it’s going to cost you,” Rushlow said.

“Now all of a sudden when you break that down, it’s actually costing you 33 cents a load for Tide and 18 cents a load for ours.”

While the ban itself has potential to make a huge dent in plastic waste, with the government of Canada expecting the Regulations to account for a net decrease of 1.3 million tonnes in plastic waste, Rushlow would like to see more people make changes personally and feels many would if they knew how accessible it was.

One of the Kingston location's employees and a Queen's student, Ainslie Timlin, says she's been surprised to find how many eco-friendly alternative products are within anybody's reach financially.

“I always tell people who come into this store if you’re looking to start somewhere, there’s a good third of this store that’s cheaper or the same price as whatever you’re buying in the grocery store,” Timlin said.

“So if you want to start somewhere this is what I as a student literally can buy no problem.”

Manufacturing and import of plastic checkout bags, cutlery, food service ware, stir sticks, and straws -with some exceptions- for the purpose of sale are banned as of December 20, with any sale of these items prohibited one year later.

Story by Owen Fullerton, YGK News, for the Local Journalism Initiative