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City hopes to 'lead by example' with voluntary ban on single-use plastics

The motion, if approved by council, could apply to events such as Kempenfest, Ribfest, and Promenade Days
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The first step in shelving single-use plastics in Barrie has been taken.

A motion that city staff develop a program to encourage local businesses and event organizers to discontinue the provision of single-use plastics at their establishments or events, with an approach suitable to their operation, and that the city implement a voluntary ban of single-use plastics at all city facilities and city special events, was approved Tuesday evening by the city building committee.

“It speaks to a voluntary ban, at this point,” Coun. Keenan Aylwin said. “There’s a number of reasons for going with the voluntary approach. At this point, it’s possible to develop a program to communicate with the community and encourage and celebrate those businesses that make the change, and have the city lead by example with our events and facilities.”

This motion now goes to general committee, and if approved to city council for a final decision.

Single-use plastics include various plastic packaging and products designed or intended to be used once and then disposed of, including recyclables. They are most prevalent in the food service sector and include straws, takeout containers, cutlery and water bottles, but can also include chip bags, granola bar wrappers and other food preservation packaging and plastic bags.

“The events we could apply this initiative to would be the permitted events and they would include… Kempenfest, Ribfest, Promenade Days, that kind of thing,” said Sandra Brunet, the city’s manager of business performance and environmental sustainability.

Plastic litter and microplastics break down in the environment into smaller microplastics that contaminate the natural food chain, ultimately impacting food and water sources. Canada produces 3.25 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, with 43 per cent of that being packaging related, say city staff.

In 2016, 29,000 tonnes of plastic garbage  the equivalent of about 2.3 billion single-use plastic water bottles  ended up as litter in Canada. 

In June 2019, the federal government announced a national ban on single-use plastics by 2021 through regulations that consider plastic as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Items such as straws, takeout containers, cutlery, stir sticks and grocery bags were being considered. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the ban’s timeline has been delayed.

Aylwin’s motion also says that to encourage participation in the voluntary single-use plastics ban, city staff would develop an associated outreach program that compliments federal, provincial and municipal circular economy initiatives. 

A circular economy calls for a change in mindset. You buy only what’s needed, while repairing and refurbishing to extend a product’s lifespan. Durable products should be shared with friends and family, and consumable products should be used in their entirety.

City staff reviewed other municipal bans, finding that plastic bags, straws, cutlery and stir sticks are the easiest single plastics to control. They are not considered packaging and can either be eliminated or replaced with a non-plastic alternative. Plastic bags, for example, can either be replaced with paper or eliminated by requesting that patrons provide their own if they want to use a bag.

But single-use items not included in bans frequently are packaging for a product, such as a plastic bottle containing cola or a chip bag. Bans on these items could not be implemented without requiring brand owners to change their approach to packaging processes, staff say, and it’s unknown if there are alternatives available that could meet the same food storage and safety standards as the current packaging.

“Does your motion affect the Pepsi Cola companies of the world?” Coun. Sergio Morales asked Aylwin.

“The short answer is Pepsi will probably not voluntarily (ban single-use plastics),” Aylwin said.