Analysis: Will Ontario ban single-use plastics - or burn them?

Will Ontario consider a ban single-use plastics? We combed through their Provincial Discussion Paper Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities line-by-line. Here’s what you need to know - and what you should tell the Ontario government.

The Discussion Paper: Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities

Since the Ontario government released their discussion paper on waste and litter, there’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of bans and restrictions on polluting single-use plastics. But while the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has frequently said bans are something his government will consider - it’s barely mentioned in their discussion paper. While we know there’s a huge public demand for bans, it doesn’t seem that this is a part of the government’s agenda.


The 29-page Discussion Paper devotes only two sentences to banning or restricting plastics, but spends 2 pages talking about the benefits of ‘Thermal Treatment’ - code words for burning plastics. Even worse, they suggest that this should be considered a form of diversion, like recycling!

The Discussion Paper suggests that some problem plastics are too complex to recycle, so they should just be burnt - we don’t agree. They ask for ideas on how to speed up approvals to build incinerators faster, and how to change the definition of ‘waste’ and ‘diversion’ so that there are even fewer barriers to burning plastic.

Don’t burn plastics

The fact is that incineration - whether its called thermal treatment, energy-from-waste, pyrolosis, gasification or another complex term - is all about destroying a resource. All of the energy and resources that went into processing, manufacturing and transporting that product goes up in smoke, so more oil needs to be pumped out of the earth to make the next new product out of virgin plastic.

Money spent on expensive incinerators and emissions filters should be spent on investing in new recycling technology (and we know recycling creates 10x more jobs than landfills or incinerators!). We believe that if something can’t be recycled, it needs to be rethought and redesigned, not burnt. 

Incineration is also bad for our health: incinerators and “energy-from waste” creates toxic pollution. Pollution controls can’t eliminate all pollution, including dioxins and ultra-fine particulate that are harmful to human health, even in small amounts.


The Discussion Paper does touch on some of the real solutions to plastic pollution, and in any future strategies, the Ontario government needs to focus on tools such as bans, producer responsibility, and deposit return.

We broke down which ideas in the discussion paper are worth investing in:

1) Ban the most problematic plastics.

As the Discussion Paper notes, recycling packaging is expensive, confusing, and many materials are so lightweight, and so widespread, that more end up in the environment than in the Blue Box. The best solution is to start with banning the unnecessary plastics that can be easily replaced and then phase in reduction plans or redesign requirements for the rest. (In the same week that the Ontario government released their discussion paper, the Opposition tabled a bill to ban some single-use plastics immediately and phase in other bans.)

2) Change the system and make companies responsible for their packaging choices.

The Discussion Paper outlines Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a progressive concept that gives companies the responsibility - and the incentive - to reduce, redesign and recycle their packaging. Backed by high recycling targets and strict enforcement, this can transform the system. It will make recycling rules the same across Ontario, and take the burden off cash-strapped municipalities. We’re supportive of EPR, but it won’t work if the Province changes the definition of recycling to include incineration, because companies won’t be motivated to invest in redesigning or recycling plastic if they can just burn it.

3) Develop new deposit-return systems.

The Discussion Paper suggests starting a deposit system for Ontario, and we support that change. Deposit return systems are one way to make companies responsible for keeping plastic out of the environment and ensuring it gets recycled. Ontario is one of the only provinces in Canada without a deposit program for drink containers. Alcohol drink containers in Ontario have a deposit, and 87% are collected for refill or recycling. In contrast, only 50% of other drink containers get recycled in the Blue Box. Deposit returns work!  It’s time for Ontario to require that all containers have a deposit - producers need to take back their containers and get them recycled.


Until April 20th, an online consultation on this discussion paper is open online. The Toronto Environmental Alliance has created an easy-to-use form to send in a comment.

Tell Ontario to move forward with bans and regulations on single-use plastics - and to keep incineration off the table.

We encourage you to call on on the Ontario government to:

  • Ban the top problem plastics now, and phase in bans for other single-use items
  • Pass rules to make producers responsible for recycling the products and packaging they sell
  • Use deposit systems to collect plastics, like drink containers, and keep them out of the environment
  • Never burn plastics and call that diversion. Thermal treatment is an expensive and toxic form of disposal that undermines a circular economy.

The Discussion Paper talks a lot about litter and tactics like clean up events and having school children pick up garbage. The fact is that the vast majority of litter is single-use disposable packaging, and too much is plastic. Clean ups will not solve the problem, and we need to turn off the plastic tap by banning and eliminating the most problematic products and pushing companies to be responsible for what they are producing.

TAKE ACTION: Send in a public comment on Provincial Discussion Paper: Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities, ERO# 013-4689

SIGN UP: Subscribe to email updates from the Toronto Environmental Alliance

Sources / More Information:

  • Provincial Discussion Paper: Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities, ERO# 013-4689 (March 2019) [LINK]
  • CBC News, March 10, 2019: "Ontario government ponders ban on single-use plastics"  [LINK]
  • NDP Environment critic lays out bill to ban single-use plastics, March 12, 2019 [LINK

Emily Alfred is the Waste Campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA)