Depending on where your business operates, legislation aimed at reducing plastic pollution might impact your facility supplies. If your business is struggling to adjust to new or impending legislation, this article has suggestions to help make that process as seamless as possible, all while keeping your bottom line in mind.
The state of single-use plastic bans across North America.
As of March, 2023, there are bans on single-use plastic in Canada and several U.S. states.
In Canada, the federal government recently passed a ban on six kinds of single-use plastic products that, as of December, 2022, are no longer permitted to be manufactured or imported for use within the country. The six categories, which make up about three percent of Canada’s overall annual plastic waste, are:
- Checkout bags
- Takeout ware with plastics that are hard to recycle
- Plastic aluminum can ring carriers
- Stir sticks
Other items, like plastic drink lids, have not yet been legislated, as there are not a breadth of reasonable alternatives for businesses to use.
In the United States, there is no federal ban on single-use plastics, but states and local governments have taken legislative initiatives. For example, eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont—have banned single-use plastic bags. Additionally, cities outside these states, such as Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and Boulder, have municipal laws banning some single-use plastic products.
Laws are ever evolving.
With every day that passes, the laws and practices around single-use plastics are evolving. Even if your business doesn’t currently operate in one of the aforementioned jurisdictions, you still have to pay attention.
For example, Cincinnati, Ohio has been debating a plastic bag ban for some time. Likewise, New York City – which has already ousted plastic bags – has recently passed a ban on plastic cutlery, chopsticks and sauce packets, which will change the way takeout and fast food restaurants operate significantly.
How does your business find alternatives?
It can be difficult to find alternatives to your longstanding facility supplies vendors or products. Especially if you’re having to make a significant change to the product, and aren’t exactly sure what you should be looking for from your vendors.
Here are some things to know about single-use plastic alternatives that could help you in selecting an effective vendor.
With plastic bags banned across much of North America, retailers’ best options are often reusable bags brought by the customer and paper bags, which can be easily recycled.
Reusable bags or bins are widely used and accepted, but only about 43% of shoppers will remember to bring them every time they shop. Likewise, according to the Government of Canada, “some consumers have raised concerns about the cleanliness of reusable bags. Advertising and consumer education about the importance of washing reusable bags, especially after being used for non-grocery purposes, is likely to help encourage their continued use.”
Your business can certainly expect and rely on customers to bring their own bags, bins, and boxes, but for those that still wish to provide customers with bags, here are some important things to know about paper shopping bags:
- Paper strength is measures in gauges (GSM), and paper bags typically come between 80-400GSM. The higher the gauge, the stronger the bag, which will be important depending on your product.
- Every paper bag offering typically comes with an advisory on its weight carrying capacity.
- Sustainable materials should be labeled by the supplier – look for vendors that advertise materials like “90% or 100% post consumer content” if you’re looking to go green with your paper bags.
Likewise, here are some helpful tips for selecting a product from your chosen vendor:
- Consider the size of the largest item your customer may need to bag on a typical shopping trip – what is the closest dimension of bag offered that could accommodate that object?
- You can calculate the gauge of strength of paper bag you need: number of items x average weight of an item.
- Select the right handle type for your paper bags based on your customers’ needs and weight of the typical bagged load. A thin ribbon handle might be great for a small gift boutique, but not for a grocery store.
- Confirm with your supplier that the bags are recyclable and/or compostable.
Often, plastic cutlery isn’t required when we give it to customers. When it is, alternatives to plastic do exist, namely pressed and molded fiber and wood.
While it isn’t hard to find providers for these products, there are some questions your business will want to answer before you make a choice:
- How do you plan on handing out this cutlery, with plastic wrapping not being an option?
- Are compostable items covered under your region’s legislation?
- Do you want to purchase cutlery sets or bulk pieces of individual cutlery?
- What specialty items do you need?
- What is the strength and tenacity of the available cutlery options, and will you be able to test them on your product?
Answering these questions will allow you to get more bang for your buck when choosing a provider.
Takeaway containers and lids.
The most sustainable takeout container method is, of course, to encourage customers to use their own reusable container. But, in the age of Uber Eats and Door Dash, we know that’s not always a realistic option.
If single-use containers are banned where you operate, there are other options. Recyclable containers – both cardboard and plastic – are an option, but be sure to talk with your waste disposal provider about which options they can recycle. Compostable containers are also an option, but may not be within legislation rules, as they are still single-use.
Choosing the right straw option is a bit more complicated than the rest. Straws are an accessibility aid to many people, and finding one that works properly for disabled customers, while still meeting regulatory standards, can be a daunting task.
Paper straws are a cost-effective solution, but many customers find they soften too quickly. There are many alternatives to paper, such as corn starch, sugarcane, and agave, that customers may find more suitable. Do some research into what your customers’ preferences and needs are, how and when you can eliminate straws, and what kinds of compostable straws are legal in your region.
Though this was by no means an exhaustive list of single-use plastic products your business may find itself needing to replace, it’s good to start thinking about how your facility supplies can be impacted by plastic legislation. Plastic bans shouldn’t mean your bottom line is crippled or your operations are impacted. Plan ahead, do your research, and find vendors with the right solutions.