Retail industry representatives and plastics manufacturers gave a cautious thumbs-up to the federal government’s proposed ban on single-use plastics, but warned the cost of groceries and other packaged goods could rise if the plan is implemented too quickly.
The proposed ban on “harmful” single-use plastics, announced Monday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, could hurt small businesses and make things more costly for consumers, industry representatives warned.
“If the government isn’t flexible, this has the potential to increase costs for consumers,” warned Philippe Cantin, the Retail Council of Canada’s senior director of sustainability.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business was even more blunt.
“It would be irresponsible to put such a sweeping measure into place without fully studying the possible impacts on Canada’s small businesses first. There is no reason why sound environmental policy and economic development can’t go hand-in-hand,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly in a media statement.
“We agree that the industry has to take a bigger role in minimizing the use of plastics. We’ve been doing it for a number of years. We’ve been paying a large percentage of the costs for blue bin programs across the country … This has been going on for years now,” said Cantin, who added that plastic has been a vital part of maintaining the safety of Canada’s food supply and shelf life.
“For food safety, plastics are currently the most effective and cost-efficient tool we have at the moment. That doesn’t mean it will always be,” he added.
A spokesperson for Empire Company Ltd., which owns the Sobeys grocery chain, pointed to several company initiatives to minimize the impact of plastic packaging, including a plastic bag collection service that ships the bags to a company that turns them into plastic decking material. Sobeys also has a pilot project in Quebec allowing consumers to bring their own reusable containers to carry meat and bulk foods.
“Reducing plastic in our stores has never been more important to our business than it is today. Put simply, it’s the right thing to do,” spokesperson Megan Buston said.
In a media release, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association wrote that “We would only caution government not to pre-determine the outcome and consider impacts throughout the life cycle of plastic products and their alternatives. Any rush to judgment could have serious implications on industry’s ability to create a circular economy for plastics that supports a national zero plastic waste strategy.”
Tom Szaky, CEO of U.S.-based recycling firm TerraCycle — which recently announced it will partner with Loblaws to launch an online reusable packaging program — called Monday’s announcement a welcome step. Without legislation, plastic garbage would continue to pile up, and the evolution toward alternative packaging would grind to a halt, he said.
“Without programs being mandated, it just wouldn’t happen as quickly, and possibly not at all,” said Szaky.
Some of that is because of consumer resistance to change, but some of it is because of improvements that have already been made in plastic packaging to make them lighter and in some cases, more complex.
That makes the recycling industry not nearly as lucrative as it once was, Szaky added.
“Either it’s more complicated, which increases the time and cost of recycling it, or it’s just lighter, which means there’s less material to recycle and sell,” he said . “If you have to collect 10 bottles to get the same amount of material you did a decade ago, that’s much less efficient and lucrative.”
Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer