Victory! Toronto moving towards to tackle Single-use plastics and foodware

Victory! Toronto moving forward on plan to tackle single-use plastics and foodware

Toronto Council unanimously voted at their December meeting to move forward to the next phase of the Single-Use Reduction Strategy. The plan includes a range of programs, business supports, and bylaws that will all work together to move our city away from wasteful, unnecessary single-use plastics and foodware, and towards waste free reusable alternatives.

This happened after years of research, organizing and collaborative work from TEA and allies like Reusable Toronto, the U of T Trash Team, and many others. Most recently, TEA supporters raised their voices through an online action and spoke directly to Councillors at City Hall to help advocate for this important step.

Click here to read our background on why this is so important!

 What we won:

  • Ask-first for accessories!
  • BYO cup and bag!
  • Funding and support for small businesses
  • Commitment to lead by example in City facilities
  • Reporting back 2024: Potential single-use plastic bans
  • Reporting back 2025: Require reusables in restaurants

Here’s what happened:

1. New by-laws starting soon!

Starting in March 2024, Toronto restaurants and retail businesses will have to ‘ask-first’ before giving out accessories, like utensils and condiments, and they’ll have to accept when you bring your own clean cup or bag.

These two bylaws are straightforward and will immediately prevent waste and save businesses money, since they won’t be giving out things that people don’t want. These aren’t rocket science by-laws: City consultations, and UofT research shows that most businesses already do them, and other cities already have rules like this.

Of note: Council opted not to apply ‘ask-first’ to single-use cups, and also not to apply a minimum fee for reusable shopping bags, yet: they’ll look at it in early 2024 when they talk about a potential plastic bag ban (see #5 below).  Stay tuned for more on that.

2. Future bylaws in Phase 3 to expand reuse

In early 2025, Council will look at potential Phase 3 bylaws - these might include regulations for large event venues, allowing customers to bring-their-own containers, and, most importantly: requiring reusable foodware for dine-in. Put simply, this means that when you order a coffee or meal “for here,” you will be offered a mug or a plate. Over the next year, staff will be doing public and business consultations to work out the details - stay tuned!

3. Support for small businesses 

The Strategy includes a new grant funding program to support a shift away from single-use and towards reuse (for example, by helping a restaurant purchase a dishwasher), and a plan to provide support for businesses with signage, information and clarity on public health guidelines for accepting customer cups. 

4. Leadership in City facilities

While the City is asking restaurants and businesses to cut waste, it’s important for to ensure that the food services funded by the city, and on city property (like civic centres, the Zoo, at Union Station) do the same. A motion introduced by Councillor Morley was passed directing the City Manager to do more work to lead by example in City facilities. 

5. Single-use plastic prohibitions

Though the federal ban on six single use plastic items is popular among the public, and most businesses were already adapting, a court challenge by the plastics and oil industry has put its future in doubt. 

Thanks to a motion from Councillor Saxe, City staff will report on Toronto’s options to address those items in early 2024. Many other Canadian cities have municipal bans on the worst single use plastics, and Toronto staff were already working on local bans a few years ago. 

We’ll keep you updated on this, as we can expect some big pushback from the major chains and plastics industry, and it’ll be important to let Councillors hear our voices. 

Our advocacy had an impact!

TEA and Reusable Toronto developed a background document for councillors and reached out to members of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee to share recommendations and recent research results. Thanks to all of you - nearly a dozen community groups sent in comments to the committee, and over a thousand people took our email action urging council to do more!

At Committee, and at Council, some important improvements were made to the Strategy, in line with what TEA and Reusable Toronto were calling for. Thanks to Deputy Mayor Morley, Deputy Mayor McKelvie, and Councillor Saxe for their motions to amend items to include:

  • A bigger focus on the City leading by example in City facilities 
  • Accelerated timeline for phase 3 regulations to early 2025
  • Consideration of municipal bans on single-use plastic to replace the federal ban

What’s next:

In early 2024, Council will talk about options to pass local regulations on single-use plastic items previously covered by the federal ban, and regulations on single-use and reusable shopping bags. Then in March, the first bylaws will start! 

We’ll be watching closely and keep you updated!

More information: