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Avoiding Single-Use: Options in the Context of a City Policy

Back in September, the City of Vancouver released their CREATING A SINGLE-USE ITEMREDUCTION STRATEGY FOR DISPOSABLE CUPS, TAKE-OUT CONTAINERS AND SHOPPING BAGS Consultation Paper. This report is meant to solicit feedback from citizens, businesses, and special interest groups to be used in forming a draft "Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy" that is expected to be presented to City Council in early 2018.

The City of Vancouver's "Greenest City Action Plan" includes a zero waste target to reduce waste disposed to landfill and incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels by 2020. While some progress has been made towards achieving this target (not exactly clear), addressing waste from single-use items has become a priority.

These single-use items often originate from foodservice and retail outlets. These items include:
  • Disposable beverage cups (not currently recyclable in Canada)
  • Take-out food containers (also contain PFAS's)
  • Plastic and paper shopping bags
Single-use items are convenient, provide branding opportunities for companies, and have some assumed food safety benefits. This convenience, however, has various 3P impacts. For Vancouver these are specifically:
  • Single-Use items cost Vancouver taxpayers about $2.5 million per year to collect from public waste bins and to clean up as litter in parks, streets and green spaces.
  • 2.6 million polycoat paper cups and 2 million plastic shopping bags are thrown in the garbage each week in Vancouver.
  • Disposable cups and take-out containers make up about 50% (by volume) of all items collected in public waste bins and 41% of large litter items on Vancouver streets.
  • Plastic bags make up 3% of shoreline litter and 2% of large street litter in Vancouver.
  • Recycling opportunities for polystyrene foam cups and containers exist, but are limited. 
  • When littered, foam packaging can break up into small pieces that become widely dispersed by wind and water, ending up in waterways and the ocean. 
  • Are not often reused or recycled.
  • Take up valuable space in our landfill.
  • Have a lasting impact on our environment long after their short use.
  • Require a significant amount of resources from our planet 
The City of Vancouver is committed to keeping these items out of landfill and incinerator. To accomplish this, solutions sought and implemented would fall in the "Avoid, Reduce and Reuse" categories of the "Zero Waste Hierarchy" according to the City of Vancouver's interpretation of the hierarchy and not the Zero Waste International Alliance hierarchy. Note that they've placed "recycle" and "Energy Recovery" (incineration) on the same level. For the record, this is in direct and knowledgeable defiance of the TRUE definition of Zero Waste. Obviously, this approach does not put material recovery first, it instead relies on the continual extraction of resources under the guise of energy production. Moving on...

The City wants to "Avoid" this single-use waste as its first priority within upcoming "Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy". Likely, we'll see a ban or a fee attached to these items to discourage their use. 

There's a lot of promising solutions that fall within the "Avoid" category. Vancouver does expect that 9% of their landfill reduction will come through "Fostering a Closed-Loop Economy" (pg39), which is where a lot of the expected solutions would fit.

Most reusable takeout container programs fit into one of the following categories; Collaborative Efforts, In-House, and Bring Your Own programs. See my series on Reusable Takeout Containers for
examples and some further insight into these programs as solutions.

SJMConsults assists foodservice companies in making their purchasing decisions of Beverage and Takeout Containers that fit within the brand's purpose and various regional regulations. SJMConsults has devised solutions to streamline an otherwise tricky and confusing problem. Contact us here to learn how we can help.



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