What’s the problem with single-use plastics?

    Single use plastics are plastics used in convenience items such as straws, stirrers, cups, bottles, food containers, bags, etc. and, as the name implies, are typically used once and then discarded.

    Single use plastics, or SUPs, pose serious environmental threats because they are often discarded as litter which is not just unsightly but can harm birds and aquatic wildlife and may contribute to plastics getting into the food we eat. Once in our environment these plastics tend not to break down and can persist for many years. While many SUPs are recyclable their small sizes and light weight means they can easily become litter. SUPs are often used while on the go where recycling options are frequently not available in commercial settings. Landfilling of SUPs is wasteful as it discards natural resources, increases demand for new petroleum and takes up space within our landfills.

    In 2018 the City of Kingston’s Solid Waste Department completed a survey of residential waste collected from Kingston homes and found that on average each Kingston household generates over 8 kilograms of single use plastic waste per year and that 60% of it ends up in going to landfill as garbage. The majority of single use plastic found in the waste stream consisted of plastic film (bags and wrap) at 60% of all SUPs.

    SUPs disposed of at restaurants, malls and other commercial locations are not collected or counted by the City. Some businesses use paper and biodegradable products to reduce SUP waste and others provide recycling collection but many direct all their wastes to landfill.
    Unfortunately SUPs also end up as litter in our environment.  A one-day visual survey of nine popular Kingston waterfront areas in 2018 found SUP litter at all locations.  Based on number of items identified, the most common forms of SUP litter were cigarette filters, plastic scraps, straws, cups and lids.  Rotary Park beach had the largest number of SUP litter items and Grass Creek Park was notable because of beach litter containing balloons and streamers.

    What are other cities doing?

    Cities across Canada and around the world are grappling with how to reduce plastic waste and litter.  Several Canadian cities, such as Toronto, Victoria and Montreal, have banned plastic shopping bags to reduce waste and encourage reusable bags and bags made from paper and compostable materials.

    What are businesses doing?

    To encourage customers to bring their own reusable shopping bags, many businesses have begun charging a small fee for plastic bags. Some stores provide only paper bags. Many food service businesses are moving to compostable plates, cutlery and straws.  Other businesses have adapted their packaging to reduce the use of single use plastic straws. New services are starting to appear where products are provided in reusable containers.

    What are Canada and Ontario doing about single-use plastics?

    At the 2018 G7 summit Canada became one of six signatories to the International Ocean Plastics Charter(External link), thereby signaling their commitment to reducing plastic pollution.  Canada is staking action by pledging to reduce(External link) plastic waste from federal operations by 75% by 2030.

    The Government of Ontario recently proposed their Made in Ontario Environment Plan which includes recognition of the need to reduce plastic waste.  Ontario is currently seeking input from citizens on their plastic waste discussion paper(External link). Comments may be provided through the Ontario Environmental Registry(External link) until April 20, 2019.

    What can individuals do to reduce their SUP use?

    • Use reusable products and businesses that support them. There are many types like shopping bags, cutlery, straws, cups and mugs – you can even get reusable food wrap.
    • Don’t choose bottled water when clean and reliable tap water is at hand and take your water to go in a reusable container.
    • Choose products in packaging that doesn’t use plastic or uses less.
    • Choose compostable products – look for the BPI symbol to make sure it really is compostable.
    • Learn how to use Kingston’s recycling and green bin programs correctly.
    • Use reusable containers to buy at bulk food stores.
    • Avoid personal care products that contain plastic micro beads or polyethylene ingredients.
    • Choose paper over plastic products.
    • Tell your shopkeeper you prefer less plastic.
    • Pack your recycling bin properly to avoid lighter plastic materials blowing away.
    • If the restaurant or business you are in doesn’t have recycling consider packing your plastic waste home and making sure it gets recycled the right way.
    • Show your children how avoid plastics and ask them what they think.
    • Don’t throw cigarette butts on the ground.