Canadian Retailers Want a 'Harmonized Approach to Reducing Single-Use Plastic'

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CC BY 3.0. 4028mdk09 – Regulation might deem that grapefruits in plastic is redundant...

Provincial regulation would make stores' waste-reduction efforts easier to manage.

Individual stores in the province of Ontario, Canada, are responsible for coming up with their own plans for handling single-use plastics, including plastic shopping bags. Some have started charging a small fee per bag, or have replaced with paper. But as environmental concerns mount, there is increasing pressure to create municipality- or region-wide regulations for reducing plastic use, and a number of jurisdictions are working on this right now.

It sounds like a good idea at first, but the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is worried that it could result in a piecemeal solution that's difficult for retailers to manage. What RCC wants to see implemented in the province of Ontario – and has explained in an open letter to Jeff Yurek, the Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Parks, sent earlier this month – is a harmonized approach to reducing single-use plastics.

This is clearly an even better idea than leaving it up to individuals. As the RCC explained in a press release, its members want to go green – just without increased red tape:

"Business owners are concerned that one-off location initiatives will lead to a patchwork of plastic bag by-laws across the province of Ontario – something our members are struggling to cope with in other jurisdictions. In Quebec, for example, there are 40 different municipal jurisdictions with 19 unique sets of rules governing plastic shopping bags."

It sounds like a nightmare to navigate, especially for those retailers with stores in multiple locations across multiple municipalities. When bylaws are inconsistent, it "adds compliance costs and operational burden to retail stores."

A standardized approach would make zero-waste shopping easier for customers, as well. Instead of having to think about each company's individual policies before heading out – such as Metro in Quebec allowing reusable and refillable containers for meat, seafood, and deli products, and Sobeys and IGA-owned stores eliminating plastic bags by 2020 – shoppers could bring the same containers and bags to every place they go.

Furthermore, this is a good opportunity to regulate the use of reusables in grocery stores and restaurants, similar to what Assembly Bill 619 has done in California, thus eliminating confusion for both retailers and consumers and making for a smoother transaction.

The RCC's request is smart and timely, and the provincial government would do well to pay attention.