Saying Goodbye to Single Use Plastics

by Angela Altass

With the Canadian government’s recent announcement that it intends to ban single use plastics by 2021, now is the time to look for alternatives.

It is anticipated that such items as plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks could be included in the ban.

A good starting point for those considering compostable plastic as an alternative to regular plastic would be to check with your local waste collection companies to see if they will collect and compost these items.

“We have seen a large movement from traditional plastics to compostable, or at least to paper with poly lined,” said Ken Hsu, general manager, Eco-Packaging, whose products are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). “Our company was established in 2007, and there was nearly no interest back then. One single sales transaction would require a good amount of time to explain and promote. Nowadays, more customers are wanting compostable, and that gives us a hint that compost and reduce is the solution to the single use plastic problem.”

Companies are being recognized for their efforts regarding sustainability. UK-based retailer Thornton’s Budgens recently received the 2019 NACS European Convenience Retail Sustainability Award for its outstanding pursuit of a significant and compelling sustainability initiative that significantly improved commercial performance, competitiveness, customer perception, staff engagement and prospects for continued financial strength.

“We congratulate Thornton’s Budgens on the award and the recognition of their efforts to raise awareness around the critical issue of plastic pollution,” said Jay Ard, vice president of industry affairs for Coca-Cola North America, which sponsored the award.

Thornton’s Budgens launched plastic-free zones inside the store in 2018 after converting 1,825 product lines to non-plastic packaging within a 10-week timeframe. According to Andrew Thornton, owner of Thornton’s Budgens, plastic-free is top criteria for shoppers’ choice of store, whereas a year ago it wasn’t even on the list.

7-Eleven Denmark has started offering products like fair-trade coffee served with organic fresh milk in 100 per cent plant-based cups and utilizes environmentally friendly packaging solutions wherever possible.

In Canada, most retailers would have to rely on privately operated haulers and composters who are equipped to take in compostable alternatives to regular plastic.

“If retailers could adapt 100 per cent compostable packaging at their store level, this would help them to reduce their dumping costs by only having one bin for compostable versus having three bins for garbage, recycling, and food scraps,” said Hsu.

Facilities are required to provide proper environments for the compostable plastics, including temperatures at between 111 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, moisture and bacteria. Due to the necessary requirements to compost the products, customers would not be able to take them home and put them in their backyard compost bin.

“At this time, it is quite unfortunate that PLA (polylactic acid) products would need to go into a regular garbage bin at home due to curbside programs not supporting compostable products,” stated Hsu. “This means, compostable products would be incinerated or sent to landfill. However, compostable products are much better from the fact that they’re made from natural renewable resources, emit much less pollution and consume much less energy for their production. In an incinerator, burning PLA products emit no toxic gas, unlike regular plastics.”

With the impending federal government ban, combined with consumer interest in more environmentally friendly options, the future might include an increase in the number of facilities where compostable plastics can be processed.

“As the general public demands more compostable products over traditional plastics, conventional recycling and composting facilities will have to equip to proper standards to pick up the need,” noted Hsu. “At this time, we encourage retailers to connect with their local or nearest private composting facility to inquire about the disposal of certified compostable products.” 

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series on single use plastics. Part two will appear in the September-October issue. If you would like to share your ideas on ways to reduce single use plastics or tell our readers how your location plans to deal with this issue, please send an e-mail to editor@convenienceandcarwash.com