Plastic pollution can be found anywhere, from the park to the beach, the nearly indecomposable substance is slowly destroying natural environments and hurting wildlife, wildlife habitats and humans. With food and beverage containers and plastic straws contributing significantly to this pollution, regulatory bodies and the general public are looking for ways to get the food industry to reduce their plastic use. Following this trend, Seattle has made history by being the first American city to ban the use of plastic straws and single-use utensils in bars and restaurants and the UK plans on following with their own nationwide single-use plastic ban.
Seattle’s ban officially took effect on Sunday. However, this isn’t the only eco-friendly initiative that the city introduced in the past few years. In fact, in 2014, Seattle was recognized as the most sustainable city in the US. The city’s publicly-owned utility, Seattle City Light, was the first in the US to become carbon neutral. Seattle has also been known to reduce their use of energy, maintain forested parklands and promote carpooling, bicycling and walking to work. In addition to city efforts, Seattle’s Alaska Airlines stopped the use of single-use plastics in May, becoming the first US airline to convert to compostable utensils.
“Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world’s oceans, and I’m proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban,” Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) General Manager Mami Hara said.
Any businesses that do not comply with the new law could be charged a $250 fine.
On the other side of the world, the UK is planning to implement an even stricter plastic ban. The country is set to ban all sales of single-use plastics, which include plastic straws and cotton swabs, by next year. As a part of the UK’s 25 Year Environmental Plan, this ban will serve to protect and clean up England’s oceans, rivers and beaches.
This upcoming ban comes after the UK implemented a plastic bag charge and ban on microbeads (small plastic particles that are usually found in facial scrubs) across the nation. These eco-friendly initiatives have already decreased the amount of plastic pollution in the UK and reduced the use of single-use plastic bags by 90 percent, which is the equivalent of 9 billion fewer plastic bags being used. Additionally, the UK government has implemented a deposit-return scheme that pays consumers a small sum for each plastic, glass or metal drink container they return to a “reverse vending machine.” Similar deposit-return schemes have been implemented in 38 countries and have been found to increase recycling rates by 90 percent or more in these countries.
North of the border, Canadain food companies have been taking similar steps in reducing their plastic use. One of the biggest restaurant companies in the country, Recipe Unlimited Corporation, has announced their plan to ditch plastic straws in all of their 19 restaurant chains, including Harveys, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey’s and East Side Marios. The food company, formerly known as Cara Operations, plans to start phasing out all plastic straws in August. Compostable or biodegradable paper straws will automatically be provided with drinks at the company’s fast-food restaurants. However, customers will have to ask for a paper straw when they are in full-service restaurants such as Milestones and Pickle Barrel.
Another Canadian restaurant chain working to reduce their plastic use is A&W Canada, who announced last month that they will ban plastic straws in all locations. According to the company, this move makes them the first North American restaurant chain to eliminate the use of plastic straws. The home of the burger family plans on providing customers with 100 percent biodegradable straws that last 2-3 hours in a beverage without breaking down but naturally decompose over the span of 3-6 months.
“Introducing packaging innovations that reduce waste is key to A&W’s environmental strategy,” said Tyler Pronyk, A&W Canada’s Director of Distribution, Equipment & Packaging in a release. “By using compostable packaging, real mugs, plates and cutlery, we are diverting millions of single-use packaging from landfills every year.
“Eliminating plastic straws is another big step for us. As we learn more about new tools and sustainable practices, we look forward to more improvements ahead,” he added.
The city of Vancouver has also voted to ban the distribution of plastic straws and foam containers by June 1, 2019. The decision was made by city councilors in May as a part of Vancouver’s Zero Waste 2040 Strategy. In addition to this upcoming law, councilors have approved a flexible bylaw to reduce the use of disposable cups and plastic/paper bags. The bylaw allows businesses to choose to either stop distributing disposable cups and paper/plastic bags, charge extra fees for their distribution or consult with the government for other solutions. If this bylaw does not lead to the city reaching its target reduction rate, councilors plan to implement a city-wide distribution ban on single-use bags and cups.
These new eco-friendly initiatives are indicative of the serious need to reduce the use of plastics in the food industry. Regardless of the bans, consumers are known to be more attracted to ethical and sustainable food products and packaging. As this plastic-free trend continues to expand, food companies are advised to start investing in more eco-friendly packaging.