The grocery giants need to reduce plastic

The Canadian government has outlined a plan to make major grocery retailers cut down on the plastic packaging filling store shelves, and offer more groceries in bulk and refillable containers.

This is a big step towards eliminating plastics and single-use packaging.

Recent research shows that 2/3rds of groceries and products sold in Canadian grocery stores are wrapped in plastic (April 2023, Left Holding the Bag, Environmental Defence.) This includes baby foods and fresh fruits and vegetables sold in plastic boxes and bags - sometimes sold at lower cost than unpackaged produce. 

The proposed requirements would apply to major grocery retailers with more than $4 Billion in annual sales.

Major grocery stores would have to submit a plan outlining how they’re going to:

  • Sell 75% of fresh fruit and vegetables plastic free or unpackaged by 2026, and 95% by 2028.
  • Sell 10% of all other store products in reusable, refillable packaging by 2026, up to 25% by 2030.

The major grocery retailers represent 80% of all grocery sales each year in Canada, and they all have their own store brands. That means this plan would have a big impact on single-use plastic packaging.

In combination with strong transparency requirements, and regulations to ban and restrict plastic, this could be a transformative step towards widespread use of reusables.

Canada would be following in the steps of other countries that have taken similar steps. France’s law requires un-packaged produce and is expected to prevent 1 billion pieces of plastic each year, and Spain, and other EU countries are following France’s lead.

Have your say

You can let the federal government know that you support this action - send a simple message to [email protected] and say that you want major grocery retailers to cut plastic packaging, to unwrap fruits and vegetables, and to scale up refillable, reusable packaging for grocery products. 

Tip: When you submit comments as a member of the public, you don’t need to be an expert, just explain why this matters to you and why you want the government to move quickly to make grocery retailers cut plastic packaging. 

What we’re asking for 

Along with our allies, TEA is urging the Canadian government to move ahead with this plan as a good first step. But they also need to go further, here’s what we’re asking for:

  • Make sure the planning and reporting are publicly available to ensure greater accountability. 
  • The targets to unwrap groceries are a good start and long overdue.
  • Grocers should not be permitted to switch to plastic packaging that is labelled ‘compostable’ - this packaging  isn’t compostable in Toronto or most Canadian cities, so it just ends up in landfill.
  • The targets to sell products in bulk and refillable packaging are a good start, but should include recovery and reuse targets to ensure the packaging is actually getting reused.
  • Reuse efforts should emphasise the provision of pre-filled reusable packaging that customers return and producers sanitise to refill for reuse (like returnable milk bottles) - this is the best way to scale up reuse dramatically.
  • We still want the government to move ahead with other regulations and bans to restrict harmful and toxic single-use plastics, this plan can’t be an excuse to delay more effective tools.

This is one part of a larger federal strategy to cut plastics in Canada that includes a ban on some plastic items, new rules on ‘recyclable’ labelling, recycled content requirements and more. TEA and other groups have been pushing the federal government to go further with bans and restrictions on plastic. 

Stay tuned for updates and the details this fall.