Federal plastic ban a good start, but what about food waste?

On Monday, the Canadian federal government announced that it is banning companies from importing or making plastic bags and takeout containers by the end of this year, from selling them by the end of next year and from exporting them by the end of 2025.

The new regulations also include single-use plastic straws, stir sticks, cutlery and six-pack rings used to hold cans and bottles together.

Evanesce supports bans on single-use, petroleum-based plastics. However, the ban as it now stands, includes compostable biopolymers which Evanesce does not support.

Part of the solution

To attain a truly circular economy, compostable biopolymer plastics are part of the solution. We would be missing a huge opportunity to support our goal of zero waste by not allowing businesses to use these products. 

Adoption of compostable packaging and serviceware has been constrained by labeling issues that make differences between compostable and recyclable products difficult to discern, and has caused challenges for recyclers and composters alike. The inclusion of biopolymers in the most recent ban represents continued confusion. 

We would like to see a future in which there is no plastic packaging. Not only does this make the labeling issues disappear but would represent a giant leap forward in creating a truly circular economy. 

A growing chorus of sustainable company executives say recycling has been a failure, with low recycling rates due to high costs, low adoption and shallow end markets for recycled plastic. 

Composting infrastructure

Establishing composting infrastructure would enable the disposal of food and packaging waste in a single stream and that food is a more serious problem. 

Food waste emits high levels of methane gas, which is 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide typically associated with plastic production. Each year, food waste in Canada creates some 57 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions. 

Critics of composting claim that it takes too long to be a truly meaningful solution. It’s true that currently, an industrially designed and scaled composting facility may take 120 days to convert waste into compost, but this time frame is not impacted by the presence of biopolymers in the waste stream.

Bbiopolymer food packaging composts faster than other organic material that would appear more susceptible to a composting regime, such as orange peels, pineapple rind and avocado pits.

Arguments about the time required to compost products should not be at issue at this moment. As composting becomes more universally adopted, composting technology will improve, and time frames will be compressed.

Innovation

Commercial activity is a catalyst for innovation. Remember, what would have once been considered a supercomputer is now carried around in the pockets of billions of people in the form of their mobile devices.

The argument for removing biopolymers from the list of banned plastics goes further, because composting solves more environmental problems than simply banning plastics. Compost offers a nutrient rich additive to soil, and can replenish Canadian topsoil, which has been ravaged by intensive farming and drought. 

The only way to reduce plastic is to use and make less plastic. Composting offers a viable and logical step forward not only to reduce, and hopefully eliminate plastic packaging and serviceware, but in creating a truly circular economy.


Douglas Horne is founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Evanesce, a compostable food packaging manufacturer.