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« Ask first before giving disposable utensils

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Starting March 1 in Toronto, disposable utensils should no longer be self-service or given spontaneously when takeaway food is ordered. (Archive photo)

  • Jean-François Gérard (View profile)Jean-François Gérard

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Toronto businesses and restaurants that sell take-out food must now ask their customers if they want disposable utensils, paper napkins or bags of ketchup before handing it to them.

This new by-law represents an evolution in the City of Toronto's strategy to reduce the use of single-use items. The first phase of the project, adopted by the municipal council in 2018, was based solely on voluntary gestures.

Merchants could then choose to offer these utensils instead as well as providing them spontaneously, as well as accepting cups from customers. They are now required to have this attitude.

Organizations in favor of waste reduction welcome a positive development, which they believe calls for more ambitious actions for the future phase 3. Restaurateurs, for their part, are satisfied with these limited changes. However, they want some flexibility if implementation encounters challenges.

For Emily Alfred, responsible for combating waste at the activist organization Toronto Environmental Alliance, it was time for city councilors to vote in favor of phase 2 last December. Toronto began a strategic plan to reduce single-use waste and other cities started later, but have gone much further, she says.

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According to her, consultations and surveys show that 70% of customers say they do not want accessories when we give it to them. She believes that this simple regulation makes it easier to say " no thanks" and could reduce this usage by 70%.

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“This measure does not go far enough. We think it's just a first step and that the city needs to do much more,” said Emily Alfred of the Toronto Environmental Association. (Archive photo)

Maximilien Roy, vice-president of government affairs for the Restaurants Canada association, which represents restaurants in the country, is generally satisfied with the approach adopted by the City of Toronto.

According to him, only small, more technical issues can justify adjustments if difficulties are encountered during the first weeks, for example for paper bags. But he believes that restaurants are relatively ready.

Megan Takeda-Tully is the founder of Suppli, a young company that offers reusable containers to restaurateurs and caterers.

Using the deposit model, individuals can return containers to around fifty locations while businesses can benefit from the company's professional premises.

I understand the City's reasoning, she explains, but we were hoping for more on the cups and food containers. Megan Takeda-Tully believes that positive options for businesses now exist and are just waiting to become more widespread.

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The regulation concerns straws, cutlery, napkins, drink holders or still the sauce packets, but not the food containers. (Archive photo)

I think there is a big market for reusable tableware, she says. At his company's partner establishments, 10 to 12% of customers request a washable container despite a small fee ($0.75) and return it within two weeks.

Quentin de Becker, a member of the Scarborough Zero Waste organization, who participated in municipal consultations on the by-law, regrets the renunciations which he considers a bit political, which harms the effectiveness of the measure. p>

We felt that when they were big companies, they had a bit of a status, an exemption, he testifies. He particularly deplores that asking first does not apply to drink cups.

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Even if businesses must accept clean cups from customers if they request them, disposable cups will remain the norm. (File photo)

Our group is happy that the political world has taken measures, he summarizes. But we find that the City could have been a little more daring.

If step 2, which is still not very restrictive, is relatively unanimous, go ahead subsequently may prove more delicate. At the heart of the debate was whether or not restaurants should be required to accept reusable containers.

Maximilien Roy explains that the profession obtained this concession by arguing on questions of hygiene. What do we do if a container is not clean? , he questions. Can the restaurant say " no, we're not going to put your drink in this glass?

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The third step would allow customers to use their plastic containers in restaurants. (File photo)

It even raises the case of legal liability in the event of contamination. For Megan Takeda-Tully, these issues are addressed by a company like hers: We take back all our containers so that they are cleaned and disinfected according to professional standards.

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The City of Toronto website indicates that in 2025, the waste management department will provide council with recommendations to expand this policy to large events, the systematic acceptance of customer boxes and the x27;obligation to have washable dishes for consumption on site.

No date has yet been set for implementation. Emily Alfred hopes Toronto doesn't wait 3 years this time to take the next step.

We can compare ourselves to what other cities are doing and be assured that it will not be the end of the world, she says.

  • Jean-François Gérard (View profile )Jean-François GérardFollow

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