Sector News

The impact of banning single-use plastics on the Canadian fast food industry

July 1, 2019
Food & Drink

Change in the restaurant industry is governed by a variety of factors: consumer tastes and trends, food supply and pricing, and even the health of the real estate market and the GDP. Once in a while, however, this change comes from government legislation, and usually ends up creating significant evolution in the foodservice landscape. Some readers may remember the upheaval of the front of house model when smoking bans began nearly two decades ago, redesigning dining rooms and removing smoking and non-smoking sections of the restaurant (or in some cases, encasing the smoking section in zoo-like enclosures, all of which were subsequently removed when the ban became final.)

Industry analysts are watching as a newly announced potential single-use plastics ban in Canada may create similar changes, especially in the fast food segment. In early June, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government will ban single-use plastics as early as 2021 and introduce standards and targets for manufacturers of plastic products or those companies that sell items with plastic packaging.

Although regular readers may recall an article I wrote about plastic straw phaseouts across the country last year, this ban has a wider reach. For the fast food industry, plastic has traditionally played a large role in the take out order, from plastic bags to straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks. In recent years, in recognition of mounting consumer pressure and the ongoing shift away from plastic, some chains have started making changes to their supply chains in preparation.

Tim Hortons is phasing in a reusable cup strategy, in addition to the new polypropylene lids, strawless lid for cold beverages, paper straws, and a more environmentally friendly paper cup and wooden stir sticks, according to a release (although the strategy has met with some resistance from Greenpeace Canada).

A&W Canada also made some changes to its offerings, such as redesigning its coffee cup sleeves and burger bags, as well as plating some dine in offerings at breakfast to be served on reusable plates and silverware. “By swapping out paper plates and plastic forks and knives for reusable serving ware, we are keeping 121,000 kilograms (266,000 lbs) of waste out of landfills each year,” claims the company’s website. The chain used its last plastic straws to make a sculpture promoting its changes, reading “Change is Good” in a 35-foot display outside of Toronto’s Union Station.

Subway Canada, known for its plastic sleeve encasing its subs, now offers a redesigned reusable bag option for franchisees to use, as well as switching out its wrapping, pouches and bags to ones using post-consumer fibre (not as horrifying as it sounds).

In late June, McDonald’s Canada (also slammed by Greenpeace Canada) opened two incubator locations of its “Green Concept Restaurants” in Ontario and British Columbia. The goal of the sites are to test consumer response to newly designed sustainable packaging initiatives, including a re-pulpable cup for cold beverages, wood fibre lids, wooden cutlery and stir sticks, and paper straws. Purchasers of Happy Meals and takeout will be able to read a How 2 Recycle label telling people how to dispose of their product packaging, and the chain has even shrunk the napkins by 20 per cent. The chain says that these changes and the ones from recent years will remove more than 1,500 tons of packaging materials from the McDonald’s Canada system.

Similar to the smoking ban, the reduction of plastics in larger quick service restaurants marks a positive change for future generations — although there are those in the industry who are urging measured consideration of these policies to consider smaller business. “Small business owners support measures that seek to protect the environment, but they want to be part of the conversation,” said Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly in a release. “It would be irresponsible to put such a sweeping measure into place without fully studying the possible impacts on Canada’s small businesses first. There is no reason why sound environmental policy and economic development can’t go hand-in-hand.”

Industry association Restaurants Canada also urged discussion and consensus. “Restaurants across the country are working hard to navigate a complex and often contradictory patchwork of regulations around single-use items while balancing the needs of diners seeking increasing convenience and delivery options,” said Shanna Munro, President and CEO of Restaurants Canada in a release. “Foodservice businesses must be able to continue meeting the needs of their customers in a way that is accessible and safe, as well as sustainable for their bottom line.”

As restaurants, and consumers, adapt to these new measures, the world of fast food will continue to evolve over time. And any change, whether large or small, will have an impact.

By Leslie Wu

Source: Forbes

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