Could municipalities be the key to curtailing plastics?: Brampton considers single-use ban as Ottawa fights to keep its in place
Feature Image Alexis Wright/The Pointer

Could municipalities be the key to curtailing plastics?: Brampton considers single-use ban as Ottawa fights to keep its in place

The federal government is battling in the Supreme Court of Canada to keep its single-use plastic ban in place, and have found allies in municipalities across the country that are slowly using their own power to implement bylaws and policies to limit single-use plastic use within their borders.

EcoTank, a company focussed on reducing plastic waste, starting with windshield washer fluid containers, delegated to Brampton council last week asking the City to consider implementing a bylaw that would expand on the federal ban, to help foster sustainable communities.

“Our niche but effective idea of allowing the consumer to dispense their washer fluid in lieu of plastic jugs has turned into a movement across Canada as we continue to add more sites every month with major fuel brands as well as private business owners,” a slide in the delegates presentation from EcoTank read. “It is now our goal to spread this message and partner with local governments eager to make a change from the status quo and go beyond what is expected to start making a real sustainable change in how simple changes to everyday consumerism can create an overwhelming impact in protecting our environment.”

Canada has the highest per capita rate of waste generation among developed countries with 125 kg per person entering the market annually. Increasingly of concern, only nine percent of this plastic is recycled, a rate that has not increased since the 1950s despite a greater emphasis on environmental concerns. Eighty-six percent of the plastic waste produced in Canada ends up in landfills which, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, represents an economic loss of nearly $8 billion, a number that could increase to $11 billion by 2030. The remaining five percent of plastic waste is disposed of through other means, including incineration.

According to research, around 50 percent of the plastic produced worldwide is used just once before being thrown away. In 2019, 23 percent of Canadians reported using a plastic straw at least once a week. In 2021, that number decreased slightly to 20 percent. Five years ago 43 percent of Canadians said they always used their reusable grocery bags when shopping, a number that climbed to 51 percent in 2021. Despite the slow adoption of reusable alternatives, stronger policies are needed to nip the problem at the source.

“The odds are not in our favour, the infrastructure is not in our favour,” Anthony Merante, plastics campaign manager with Oceana Canada, previously told The Pointer.

By implementing a single-use plastics bylaw at the municipal level, Robbie Mair, co-founder of EcoTank, said the City of Brampton can help contribute to the solution by providing consumers with alternatives that are convenient, cost effective and environmentally friendly. 

“Brampton has the opportunity to utilize these blueprints and be the leader in Ontario as set out in the CEERP,” he said to council. “It's also a lot more enforceable than an initial all out ban, providing the long term upside with little downside.”

Despite Brampton’s previous reluctance to act on issues of environmental importance, falling behind in the acquisition of an electrified transit fleet for example, many of the councillors were intrigued by the idea of helping to control the plastic problem.


Brampton council voted unanimously to refer the delegation back to staff to prepare a report on the possibilities of a single-use plastics bylaw.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


“I've seen the devastation that single use plastic causes, especially in our wards around grocery store areas that back onto green space. And that is just from shopping carts. It's a mess,” Councillor Harikat Singh said. “We can do as many community cleanups as we want, but it's just never enough.”

Karen Wirsig, plastics campaign manager at Environmental Defence, said municipalities can play an important part in butting a break in the waste stream because they are closely connected to it.

“I think why municipalities have always been on the forefront of this fight is that municipalities know what's in the waste stream. And they know what they pick up from the environment,” she said. “They know what they’re picking up from households, they know often what they're looking out for, in certain instances, filling up their landfills. And so they're closest in some ways to the garbage.” 

Following the delegation, council voted unanimously to refer the delegation back to staff to work independently, and collaboratively with the Region of Peel, to prepare a report to bring back to council on the feasibility of implementing a bylaw of such.

Brampton is not alone. Other Canadian municipalities that are either considering, or have implemented, a similar bylaw include Mississauga, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Squamish, Prévost and Mascouche and Terrebonne.

At the January 24 general committee meeting, Mississauga council approved an information report from staff that begins to sketch a plan for reducing single-use items in city facilities. 

“The overall goal of the policy is to reduce single-use items through education and awareness for City staff on environmentally sustainable alternatives to single-use items. Careful consideration was also made to exclude from the policy single-use items required for use in City facilities and operations where an equivalent (re-usable) alternative is unavailable,” the report reads. Examples include accessibility items, health and safety items and items that are readily recyclable or compostable. The strategy serves as an incentive for City employees to aim to reduce waste within the City’s own operational facilities.

A spokesperson for the City told The Pointer that the report does not require the passing of a bylaw because it is an internal policy and instead provides a guidebook for individual City staff to make more responsible and sustainable choices. 

Erwin Pascual, manager of waste planning at the Region of Peel, previously told The Pointer the Region as a whole supports the federal target of zero plastic waste by 2030. He emphasized the Region has worked to advocate for extended producer responsibility, support for single-use plastic bans and recycled content targets.

The Region has implemented several pilot programs to reduce waste of all kinds including curbside and residential building clothing and textile collection services, a pick up service for household hazardous waste and electronics waste and trials for various methods of enforcing proper participation in Peel’s blue bin recycling and green organics collection programs.

“A key focus of Peel Region’s promotion and education efforts is to create awareness and inform residents of all ages the benefits of practicing the 3Rs,” Pascual wrote in an email. “This includes reducing how much waste is generated in the first place (which often includes plastic), reusing and repurposing items, and recycling where and when we can.”

To work toward a circular economy, the Region of Peel has a target of a 75 percent waste divergence rate by 2034. This will see 75 percent of waste rerouted away from landfills and reused, recycled or composted in any way possible. In 2022, the Region had a divergence rate of 50 percent, 14 percent of which is diverted by blue box recycling alone.


Takeaway coffee cups are one thing not targeted by the federal ban despite Canadians using 1.5 billion disposable cups per year, according to research from the University of British Columbia.

(Farhad Ibrahimzade/Unsplash)


In Toronto, a bylaw is coming into place on March 1 which will eliminate the automatic inclusion of an “accessory food item”, including things like plastic cutlery, with takeaway. These items can still be requested but they will no longer be automatically included. The City has also partaken in other initiatives that promote a circular economy and waste system throughout the City. In 2022 the municipality reported 85 million takeaway food containers and 39 million single-use cups are being used by households each year. A group of restaurant owners became part of a pilot program that uses the Inwit app, which allows customers to order food using reusable containers, including non-plastics that can be returned to the restaurant.

“I think the smart play there is to work with restaurants to figure out who's interested, build the path of least resistance first. Who's interested, what infrastructure is needed, can we help make that happen? And see how it works and then grow from there,” Wirsig said. “And then when it's a real alternative on the ground, then you can make it into a bylaw.”

Mascouche and Terrebonne — in Quebec — has gone further, implementing a bylaw City-wide that expands on the list of single-use items targeted under the federal ban. 

“Banning certain objects is the first step towards our central source reduction objectives. Reducing at source means consuming less, yes, but it also means avoiding sending certain materials to our sorting centers and landfill sites which are overflowing throughout the province,” Mathieu Traversy, Mayor of Terrebonne, said in a press release.

But the legislation in Mascouche and Terrebonne will be implemented in two phases with the second phase targeting objects that will not be officially banned, but will provide incentives to find alternatives to common items that are often filling up the blue bin.

“Banning is not enough in our opinion. Like the City of Prévost, we also want to change habits more profoundly, in particular by relying on an economic incentive. We therefore want to initiate a profound shift towards the reduction of single-use objects at source. Let us be careful not to change one material for another when we can sometimes simply avoid a product completely by making an eco-responsible choice,” Guillaume Tremblay, Mayor of Mascouche, said in a press release. 

Wirsig said Environmental Defence was hoping to hear an announcement from the federal government this winter on expanding the list of items targeted under the single-use ban, but given the current situation with plastic producers challenging the legislation, she says she doubts that will happen now. She is particularly concerned with some commonly used single-use items like takeaway cups and lids that are not targeted under the initial ban.

“Municipalities and provinces might be our best bet to expand the types and amounts of the types and products and items that are banned across Canada,” she told The Pointer. 

But while municipalities can play a leadership role, the federal ban allows for a more streamlined approach and sets a baseline for other levels of government to build upon. 

“Life isn't limited to a municipal jurisdiction, and neither is their shopping, their consumption habits. And so, to have a bit of patchwork for both consumers and businesses isn't perfect,” Wirsig said. “But what we've noticed with municipal bylaws is that they really do start [the] ball rolling.” She said municipalities could become the key to enacting sweeping bans that collectively could act like a national policy.


Canada’s decision to give plastic a “toxic” label under CEPA was novel but necessary according to some environmental groups.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


In 2021, the Canadian government announced the designation of some plastics as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), becoming the first nation globally to list the polluting substance as “toxic”. The designation paved the way for the single-use plastic ban that the government promised Canadians in 2020. 

Research from Oceana Canada shows that 91 percent of Canadians support a ban on single-use plastics, but that didn’t stop over 60 notices of objection from plastic and oil producers.

In 2022, the first phase of Canada’s single-use plastic ban came into effect. As of December that year, there was a ban on the manufacture and import for sale in Canada of checkout bags, cutlery, food service ware, stir sticks and some types of straws. Beginning in December 2023, these items were banned for sale. According to the prohibition timeline, it will take until December of 2025 for all bans to be in place. These bans would not be possible without the designation of plastic as toxic. 

But prohibiting the manufacturing and sale of these items by listing the substance as toxic, cuts into a $35 billion industry, leaving plastic producers far less than satisfied. As a result, a group of Canada’s largest plastic producing companies, including Dow Chemical, Imperial Oil and NOVA Chemicals, calling themselves the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition (RPUC), backed by American oil companies and the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, took the federal government to court, pleading for a judicial review in hopes of overturning the designation of plastic as a toxic substance.

Much to the dismay of organizations like Environmental Defence, the federal court handed down a decision in November, stating the CEPA designation was “unreasonable and unconstitutional”. While the ruling itself does not directly overrule the ban on single-use plastic items, the CEPA designation is needed for it to remain in federal jurisdiction; without it, the regulations would have to be rolled back.

The federal government has appealed the decision, and while a hearing and decision are awaited upon, the bans will remain in place. 

While the decision in Canada sent shockwaves across citizens and environmental organizations, the idea that industry knows best is demolished on the global stage.

In March 2022, at the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly, all 193 UN member states unanimously voted to end plastic pollution. The decision sparked a series of negotiations set to end next year serving as the basis for a binding legal agreement by the end of 2024. Wirsig said having global measures would be ideal.

“We're delighted to see any initiatives at any level of government to address plastics in their jurisdiction. I think what we know is that plastic pollution needs all hands on deck, we need everybody working on this,” she said. “And what we don't need is confusion and delay tactics from the industry.”



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