Manitoba

Banning single-use plastics by 2021? Small business owners weigh in on outright ban

The federal government has announced it wants to ban single use plastic items, including things like takeaway cups and straws — but where does that leave small businesses?

Federal government says 87 per cent of plastic waste ends up in landfills

Katrina Tessier, who owns Scout Coffee + Tea, has made the switch to reusable straws, but still relies on plastic takeaway containers. She says she would lose business if she didn't give her customers the option to use takeaway cups. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Step into any coffee shop, restaurant, or grocery store, and single-use plastic is pretty hard to avoid.

"Paper cups are wax lined, so there's plastic inside of them. Plastic lids, plastic cold cups, bags, and packaging that stuff comes in too ... there's lots of plastic everywhere," says Katrina Tessier, owner of Scout Coffee + Tea in Winnipeg.

The federal government announced Monday that it wants to ban single-use plastic items, including things like takeaway cups and straws.

A report earlier this year found that 87 per cent of plastic waste in Canada ends up in landfills, while only nine per cent is recycled.

Tessier switched to reusable items last year — including straws — if customers are staying in.

But if they're taking it to go, it's going in plastic.

"You can't get rid of it because you would lose half your business, if not more," she says.

"For a small coffee shop to say, 'Hey we're not going to [do] takeout,' well then those people will just go to another coffee shop," she said.

Either way, she says a ban for everyone would even the playing field for smaller businesses that also want to reduce their waste.

Bernstein's Deli owner Aaron Bernstein says he's wanted to start charging for plastic bags in the past, but he's worried customers would not be happy. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Tessier currently uses compostable cups and takeaway containers, but worries the majority of those are ending up in the landfill anyway.

She is curious what sort of alternatives would be brought in, and how things like biodegradable cups would be processed.

Aaron Bernstein says he's curious about that too.

The owner of Berstein's Deli says he's thought about making people pay for plastic bags as a way to cut down on his business's waste.

"People always want the groceries double bagged," he says.

Business owners like Munther Zeid is curious to know what types of plastics would be banned, and how it would affect how his grocery store sells and stores products like meat. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"Without there being a wide adoption of policies like [banning plastics], it would be very difficult for an owner like me to face the public, to start charging for bags as a deterrent," he says.

"We do offer reusable bags for sale, but most people don't want to purchase them."

The federal government says Canadians throw away 34 million plastic bags a day.

Many businesses, like grocery stores, rely on plastic for products that could easily spread bacteria, like meat, and they wonder what they'll do without plastic as an option.

"Alternatives might be more expensive," says Munther Zeid, owner of Food Fare grocery stores.

"Plastic keeps items fresh, keeps it clean, keeps it organized, and it's cost-effective. So what comes out next? Who knows?" Zeid says.

He's also curious how health and safety rules will be followed if people are coming in looking to purchase items and put them in their own containers.

"We would almost need customers to sign a waiver when they come in, saying that they're using their own packaging and whatever happens to the meat happens," he says.

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

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