Why Toronto needs a local single-use plastic ban

May 23, 2023 City Council Update

All over the planet, people are grappling with the plastic pollution crisis; it’s clear that we need regulations and action at all levels of government to solve this problem.

Most importantly: we need to turn off the plastic tap and stop the production of the worst plastics, which are wreaking havoc through the full life cycle of production, use, and disposal.

Canada, following the example of many other countries, passed a national ban on key single-use plastic items in an effort to stop the downstream harms of these wasteful and unnecessary products. Starting in December 2023, businesses big and small across Canada have phased out single-use shopping bags, takeout foodware made of foam (styrofoam) or black plastic, utensils, stir sticks and some straws.

This plastic ban is a big step forward. But despite the fact that the majority of Canadians support it (and want to see it expanded!), the federal ban is under threat. The oil and plastic industry is fighting back aggressively, causing uncertainty as it drags the government through the courts trying to quash it. Sadly, this corporate bullying happens in any country, city or jurisdiction that takes steps to reduce or regulate plastics.

What can Toronto do to get moving on a local plastics ban?

Toronto can stand up to the plastic industry and pass a municipal by-law to ban the worst single-use plastics like plastic bags, foam foodware and black plastic. Why bring in a local ban when a federal one already exists? To avoid losing all the progress we’ve just made. If the federal ban on plastics changes or is removed altogether, we’d see a return of cheap plastic bags tangled in trees or floating in our waterways, foam clamshells contaminating the recycling bins, and other single use plastics filling up our garbage. A local ban means that no matter what happens with the federal government and in the courts, we can be sure those plastic items are gone from our city for good. 

That’s why TEA and many allies recently urged the City’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee to start on a local ban as soon as possible, and not wait until a court decision on the federal ban is made. This would give City staff enough time to develop regulations, consult on the details and outline an enforcement plan so that there’s no risk of a return of single use plastics!

The good news is that the Councillors agreed that bans are a key part of Toronto’s strategy!

Thanks to the leadership of Councillor Saxe, Council voted not to wait, but to start working on a municipal plastic ban now, with staff reporting back at the end of 2024 on the details. They also directed staff to be more proactive on enforcing and educating about the existing federal ban and single use plastic alternatives. Looking forward to future issues, the committee voted to collect and monitor additional types of problem plastics for potential future regulations and bans. (Read the Committee decisions here).

TEA's Waste Campaigner spoke to the Committee, and the strong community response with letters from individuals, and community groups had an impact! Thanks to Stop Plastics, Scarborough Zero Waste and the other groups across the city that spoke or submitted a letter! (See some of the letters here) 

Other Canadian cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and Guelph have already passed their own local bans on single-use plastics that parallels the federal ban. The City of Toronto actually began consulting the public on similar bans in 2018 along with its broader strategy to tackle single-use items, but dropped these items from their strategy when the federal ban was announced. The consultations showed strong support for bans and restrictions on these items. Now that this ban is under threat, it’s time to bring them back in.

What’s next: 

City staff will start consulting and working on single use plastic bans for Toronto and report back to Council for a vote later in the fall 2024. City staff will also continue work on other parts of the Single-Use Reduction Strategy, such as potential future regulations to require reusables at venues and events.

→ Watch for action alerts from TEA to help you raise your voice when this comes back for a vote!

More info:

  • Read TEA’s comments to Councillors here.
  • See some of the letters from other community groups here:  
  • Check out TEA’s email action to councillors. 

More info:

- Read TEA’s comments to the committee.

- See some of the letters from other community groups here