It’s Waste Reduction Week in Canada…What can you do?

the-culpritsIn support of waste reduction week in Canada which runs from Oct 17th-23rd 

One Use Items

We’ve all hit the late night drive-thru and ordered a burger, fries and soft drink. We ask for some ketchup for the fries and when we open the bag we find 12 individual portioned ketchups, 10 more than we need. If you are like me you are upset and keep the ketchups and put them in your fridge at home.  I just found six of these ketchups in my fridge today and I will admit to throwing them out because I could not remember how long they had been in that little cup I had put them in…the one that somehow got shoved to the back of the fridge!

We at UGSRP call items like these ketchup packages, straws, creamers, stir stix, paper napkins ‘one-use items’ and  they are all made with consumer convenience in mind.  One-use items certainly do the job but in doing so have a great impact on the environment. The major negative with one-use items is the amount of natural resources that are used in the making of these products. Another issue is that these items never find their way into any recycling stream they just end up in landfill.  In 2015 Heinz ketchup sold over 11 billion ketchup packages all in the name of convenience.  The use of plastic drinking straws is even more staggering. Americans use an estimated 500 million plastic straws a day.  The majority of these drinking straws are made from polypropylene and will be with us for 600 years. Impacts on the environment caused by these straws include the extraction of resources, polluting oceans and crowding landfills.

The impact of these items in pretty easy to get your head around so let’s instead focus our attention on behaviors and practices that can be put in place to help reduce our dependence on ‘one use items’ in restaurants.

Let’s look at the three sides to this particular story and speak to ways to improve

What can consumers do?

  1. When ordering a drink in a restaurant just say no to straws! Just tell your server that you don’t need a straw to enjoy your drink. This has been a focus of UGSRP since our early days when we started our ‘Straws Suck’ campaign.  Another project we follow closely and support is the last straw project.
  2. When ordering take out tell the counter person exactly what you need and how many. “May I have one ketchup package with my order please.”
  3. If you get plastic cutlery in a take-out order wash them and use them at home. They are great for kids lunches, picnics and camping.
  4. Pass on your feelings to management. If you see an operation that seems to use excessive amounts of these one-use items pass on your feelings to management. This can also be done on avenues like Yelp and to the comment sections of corporate websites.

What can restaurant operators do?

  1. The number one thing operators can do is train staff. Giving employees’ information on the environmental impact and financial cost of these items will resonate with staff.  Counter service employees in QSR have a great impact on the amount of these products that are used.  Training your staff to be vigilant in only meeting customer requests can not only help the environment but save money.  Operators can also improve systems of distribution of these items.  Many operators have already switched to more effective methods of managing the use of these items such as napkin dispensers and self-pump ketchup cups.
  2. Progressive operators can also offer ceramic and stainless steel options for eat in customers at QSR locations. A&W has been a leader in this with their glass mugs for soft drinks and breakfast service ceramics and stainless steel cutlery.  While A&W is being progressive other companies like Tim Horton’s have moved the wrong way with the elimination of ceramic coffee mugs in their locations.  This forces customers who once would enjoy a coffee in a ceramic mug while dining in to now drink from a disposable plastic lined paper cup that is not recyclable.

Government’s Role

While many cities in the USA have banned various one-use items Canadian cities have been slow to act.  Large cities such as San Francisco and New York have recently banned all polystyrene which is used in many take-out cups and containers.  Internationally, France has recently passed legislation that will ban all  take out containers that are not made from 100% compostable materials by 2020.

The lack of government willingness to regulate in Canada has not stopped businesses to band together and act.  This last summer business in the B.C. coastal town of Tofino came together with a self-imposed ban on drinking straws.

Waste reduction week in Canada is a national environmental campaign that builds awareness around issues of resource efficiency, responsible consumption and production, and promotes actions that recover more discards for recycling and conserve natural resources. We at UGSRP urge both consumers and restaurant operators to use this campaign as a time to evaluate their actions and behaviors to help reduce waste and its impact on our environment.

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