New Toronto bylaw aims to reduce single-use, takeaway items at businesses

Beginning on March 1, 2024, a new City of Toronto governing single-use and takeaway items came into effect. Nick Westoll has more on what that means for customers as well as food and retail businesses.

A City of Toronto bylaw aimed at cracking down on the number of single-use and takeaway items ending up at waste transfer stations is now in effect.

There are three notable changes under the bylaw which came into force on March 1:

  • By-request distribution of single-use items, paper shopping bags: Customers must request single-use items or paper shopping bags, or staff must ask customers if they need the item before distributing it
  • Use of reusable items: Business operators are required to use a customer’s reusable shopping bag or reusable beverage cup
  • New standards for single-use, paper shopping bags: Bags provided by businesses need to adhere to the City of Toronto waste diversion program standards and can’t have metal grommets or plastic handles

Annette Synowiec, the City’s director of solid waste management services policy, planning, and outreach, said the bylaw is meant to change customer and business behaviours.

“We want to make sure that we’re reducing waste upfront wherever we can to make Toronto a zero-waste city,” she told CityNews.

Sarah Terpstra, who co-owns and operates Alimentari Italian Grocery on Roncesvalles Avenue, said she and her team have been trying to find ways to reduce their environmental footprint.

“It’s pretty unfortunate that we have to be told to do these because I think it just makes sense. We’ve been doing this since we opened seven years ago,” she said.

“Our customers are running from their homes taking food back to their houses where it’s much nicer to use an actual fork or knife, so a lot of times when we do ask we get a ‘no.'”

Terpstra said despite the desire to reduce waste, some items still need to be packaged in single-use wrapping or containers.

“To serve everything to order, you have to have a lot of counter space, you have to have more staff,” she said.

“We’ve tried to find this balance of packaging some items for convenience and quickness to kind of maintain the ease of shopping.”

Volunteer members of Roncy Reduces, a grassroots environmental organization, have been speaking with business owners on Roncesvalles Avenue to promote the benefits of reducing waste and encouraging bringing reusable cups and containers

“We initially started because of plastic pollution and how insidious it is, and how dangerous to our health,” Debbie Green told CityNews

“Think about the positives and think about the long-term positives, right? We all suffer from plastic pollution, and from litter, and from single-use items that are wasteful, expensive, polluting.”

When it comes to the new bylaw, CityNews asked Synowiec about enforcement and if business operators could expect tickets. She said education is the main focus

“We want the outcome of compliance with the bylaw to get the waste reduction, ultimately,” she said, explaining bylaw officers would make an effort to speak with business owners to explain how they can meet the requirements.

“From there, we would want to work with them to achieve compliance with the bylaw rather than just going out and fining them right away.”

Synowiec said a fine starting at $500 could be issued if there was continued non-compliance with the Toronto bylaw. She noted enforcement will largely be driven by complaints from residents versus proactively going out to businesses.

The next phase of the bylaw could see additional restrictions imposed on large-scale events, but consultation on any potential measures still needs to happen.

Julie Kwiecinski, a director for Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said her organization was included in consultations on the bylaw that first began in 2018. She said she’s glad the initial idea of including fees was dropped and appreciates the intent of the bylaw, but there are potential concerns.

“I think the jury’s out on the enforcement until we see exactly how it all plays out,” Kwiecinski said.

“I’m worried a little bit about the specificity of the rules.”

She called on the City of Toronto to step up communication efforts and increase direct outreach efforts to all small business owners and staff members to ensure they are aware of the bylaw.

Kwiecinski also suggested there could be a role for the provincial government to take greater action in harmonizing environmental protections across different municipalities while also respecting “municipal autonomy.”

Meanwhile, Terpstra had a message for other business owners who might have difficulty adjusting packaging and processing.

“I think that at the end of the day, it’s going save you money … the less packaging we use, the better off your business,” she said while offering to speak to operators.

“I think the real hang-up will be just converting your customers’ shopping habits and so I think … having those conversations with your customers … it’s going to take some time.”

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