An increasing number of people are voicing concerns about the use of plastics in our daily lives. Single-use plastics of any kind, such as grocery bags, cutlery, straws, polystyrene and coffee cups, are significant yet preventable sources of plastic land-based and marine pollution. In Canada, bans on plastics have so far been left up to municipalities, some of which are taking action. Both Montreal and Victoria have recently decided to ban plastic bags in stores, with business owners subject to huge fines if caught providing these to customers. Other jurisdictions, such as the city of Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia, are contemplating similar bans, in the wake of China’s recent ban on the import of certain recyclable products. Although regulations are cropping up in only certain places, increasing public awareness appears to be gaining widespread momentum globally and across Canada.
National and regional plastic-bag bans have been successfully implemented widely internationally: in Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. But plastic bags are not the only single-use plastic items being targeted – polystyrene is on the hit list as well. Food businesses in Washington and San Francisco will no longer be able to use containers or other foodservice products made of polystyrene. In Maine, the Brunswick Town Council voted unanimously to ban polystyrene food containers. All retailers, restaurants and vendors are prohibited from using polystyrene foam packaging, including take-out containers, meat trays and egg cartons. While the movement toward single-use plastic bans is significant, not everyone is convinced of their effectiveness.
In Canada, some players are taking their own steps to reduce plastic use, regardless of government policy. In 2009, Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocer, implemented a seemingly insignificant 5-cent charge on plastic grocery bags. This unassuming action has reportedly diverted 11 billion plastic bags from our landfills and oceans over the last nine years. In February, 2016, Walmart Canada followed suit and began charging customers a 5-cent fee for all shopping bags across all Walmart stores in Canada. Public sentiment on climate change and environmental stewardship has changed significantly over just the last few years, as more Canadians are expecting industry to act. But some still have reservations.