As a push towards a more sustainable future, the government of Canada has banned six categories of single-use plastics (SUPs) used in foodservice.
To get an in-depth look into current and future legislation, we spoke with Katie Fox, Bunzl North America’s Sustainability Program Manager. Fox shared her insights on the current and future challenges businesses face.
What Legislation has been enacted so far?
KF: “Back in June of 2022, the Government of Canada published new legislation prohibiting certain single use plastics (SUPs) and problematic plastics. Manufacturing and import of the items was banned in December of 2022, sales of these items will be prohibited December of this year, and the export of these plastics will be prohibited by the end of 2025.
The ban includes six categories of SUPs: checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks, straws, and ring carriers. Problematic plastics includes hard to recycle plastics like EPS, foam, PVC, black plastic and oxo-degradable plastics.”
How have businesses reacted to the legislation?
KF: “Legislation is often a big motivator. We’ve been partnering with our customers to transition out of the banned categories. Some wanted to differentiate their packaging in advance of this legislation and others focused on just being compliant. We’re focused on meeting our customers wherever they are in their sustainability journey to help them move forward.”
What can businesses do to accelerate their transition to more sustainable products?
KF: “The legislation changes quickly. It’s also important to understand that some of the push for sustainable alternatives is due to consumer awareness and demand. As a result, there’s now a wider portfolio of more cost-effective solutions available because many more manufacturers have moved to produce more sustainable products and have developed new packaging innovations across all substrates.”
What types of SUP and sustainability legislation can we expect in the future?
KF: “Right now, the Government of Canada has opened for public comment on its latest round of discussion on recycled content and product labelling. The proposed product labelling rules would ban recyclability claims unless 80% of Canadians in a province or territory have access to recycling systems that can actually process those items.
Specific standards around terms such as degradable, biodegradable and compostable are also being considered.
The other thing I should mention is PFAS. It stands for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – it’s a class of chemicals we call ‘forever chemicals’ because of the way they persist and bio-accumulate in our environment and our bodies. They’re used in clothing, cookware, food packaging, protective sprays, firefighting foam and more because they have special properties that make them resistant to water, grease, oil, heat, and fire. Unfortunately, they’re being associated with several negative health outcomes. This has become a topic of concern in the U.S. and is under discussion in Canada as well.”
How is end-of-life management being executed to support the bans and more sustainable alternatives?
KF: “Canada has already implemented Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to help with end-of-life management. It requires producers to pay fees to the community to invest in recycling infrastructure, composting, etc. The idea is to help to build the infrastructure to manage end-of-life through funding from the producers of these products.”
What should people consider when transitioning to more sustainable alternatives?
KF: “Work with our experts to ensure your packaging portfolio is compliant with federal or provincial level legislation. Focus on transitioning to alternatives that are either recyclable, reusable or compostable. I would keep in mind that the SUPs ban applies equally to conventional and nonconventional plastics. Not all alternatives are compliant.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. The ultimate goal of your packaging is to protect your product. Ask yourself, ‘If I remove the plastic component, is it going to cause product damage in transit or during distribution? Is it going to decrease the shelf life of a food product?’”
Is there anything else we should know?
KF: “The landscape is changing quickly. I cannot emphasize that enough. We’re here to help our customers take a proactive approach to becoming more sustainable by making informed decisions and having access to the best, most innovative and more sustainable product alternatives.”