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Ontario businesses taking the lead to reduce plastic waste

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Ottawa says it is moving forward with a ban on single-use plastics across Canada, but the legislation won’t likely come into force until 2021.

Canada is lagging behind the European Union on the issue. The EU brought in a ban last year. Ontario, for its part, is still deliberating, but initiatives are taking place, by governments and businesses.

The national grocery chain Sobeys has 250 retail locations across Canada. As of Jan. 31, Sobeys no longer offers its customers single-use plastic checkout bags across Canada.

"So what led to the decision, it was customers," said Violet MacLeod with the grocery chain. "Our customers asked us to do it and, you know what? We said we’re going to lead the way.”

She said the move will eliminate 225 million plastic bags a year nationwide. MacLeod said there will be more changes.

"Especially within our produce section," she said. "So one thing we are doing at IGA, which is one of our family of brands, it’s in Quebec, we are doing bring your own reusable containers. So customers are being encouraged to bring containers to get hot foods. So salads, sandwiches chicken, vegetables and fruits and nuts in our bulk items."

Some fastfood restaurant chains, such as chicken giant KFC, have already removed plastic straws and bags from their franchises. Many more chains and restaurants have done the same.

A recycling truck in Oshawa, just east of Toronto, moves away from the curb loaded with Blue Box contents. Those blue boxes contain plastic packaging, tin cans, paper products and other recyclables.

In Ontario, government figures show only about 30% of household waste is being diverted. However, groups like Environmental Defence claim that only 10% of the plastic that goes into the blue box is actually recycled.

Vito Buonsante with Environmental Defence said one area the province of Ontario can improve is a deposit program for plastic bottles.

"Estimates say that in Ontario we use around 3 billion plastic bottles a year," Buonsante said. "Through curbside collection, we collect less than 50%.  So a deposit return system would reduce that 1.5 billion bottles to 100 million or two, which is still significant."

Buonsante said a deposit return system would have a huge positive effect on the environment. He said in places like the state of Oregon and in Norway, redemption rates are above 90%.  

For generations, beer bottles in Ontario been returned, washed and then reused.

West along one of Ontario’s busiest highways, the Queen Elizabeth Way, is the city of Hamilton, where one city councillor wants her community to ultimately become a zero plastic waste city.

Nrinder Nann last year put forward a motion for city staff to research the feasibility of creating a zero plastic waste plan. It passed unanimously.

Nann said she believes there can be a drastic reduction on the reliance of single use plastic.

"I think that the biggest change here is going to be a culture shift, in shifting people out of their consumer mentality," Nann said, "but also don’t think that this is only the consumer. Absolutely, there has to be corporate responsibility here, not just about changing their packaging, but also collecting their plastics that they are going to continue using in the market."

That is also where the Ontario government is heading. In trying to clean reduce the waste that ends up in landfill sites, it has released a discussion paper that includes banning single use plastics. However, Environment Minister Rod Phillips said part of the strategy will be to target the corporations.

"And that’s by making sure the people who are actually creating the products we use, and creating the packaging for those products we use, are at the end of the day accountable for the recycling of those products," he said.

Phillips said 10,000 tons of plastic waste and debris enter the Great Lakes every year, so plastic has to be a major focus of the provincial strategy. He said Ontario sits beside 20% of the world’s fresh water, so protecting that has to be a priority.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.
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