Did you know?
- Are designed to be used once and tossed away
- Are often not recyclable
- Are made from fossil fuels like natural gas and crude oil
- Contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
- Can take hundreds of years to break down
- Are often littered and can harm people and wildlife
We all have a role to play in reducing waste and single-use items:
- As a regional government, we are advocating for change, and educating and encouraging our businesses and communities to take action to reduce single-use items
- As individuals we all need to reduce our use of single-use items when possible; every single action adds up to huge impacts
If everyone in York Region refused or avoided using one single-use item, that would be over one million single-use items avoided!
The more we refuse, reduce and reuse, the less we waste.
What are single-use items?
Single-use items are items designed to be disposable; in other words, used once and tossed away. They are generally difficult to recycle.
Single-use items are often made of plastic. Plastic production has been on the rise because of its low cost and convenience.
Examples of common single-use items include:
- Coffee pods
- Foam takeout containers
- Hot and cold takeout cups
- Plastic bags
- Plastic cutlery
- Plastic straws
- Stir sticks
Why are single-use items an issue?
- Single-use items are often made of hard to recycle plastic.
a. Plastic is made from fossil fuels like natural gas and crude oil and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions
b. Plastic is often used once then thrown away
c. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down into tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics that contaminate the environment, including our water
- Single-use items often end up littering our parks, playgrounds, rivers and lakes, potentially harming people and wildlife.
- Many single-use items are not recyclable and go in the garbage. It’s difficult for people to know which items are recyclable and which are garbage. Non-recyclable items mistakenly placed in the blue box contaminate other items and reduce the recyclability and value of the other materials that can be recycled.
What is being done to reduce single-use items?
We all have a role to play.
All levels of government are working toward banning or reducing single-use plastics and items.
The Government of Canada is also working towards a circular economy.
- A circular economy eliminates waste and pollution, and conserves resources. It is a shift from a throw-away to a circular mindset to extend the lifecycle of goods, food and resources through better design and continuous reuse, so nothing goes to waste
- Federal government plans to mandate companies to use at least 50% recycled content in their plastic products and packaging by 2030
- Federal government is working on better labelling requirements for plastic items; items must be accepted in 80% of Canada’s recycling facilities in order to display the mobius loop or chasing arrows symbol
- Federal government is banning the manufacture, import, sale and distribution of six frequently used plastic items to protect the environment and drastically reduce litter:
- Food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics
- Ring carriers (e.g., six-pack rings)
- Shopping bags
- Stir sticks
- The federal ban on the sales and distribution of these plastics takes effect on Dec. 20, 2023
The Ontario government is moving the blue box program to a producer responsibility model by December 31, 2025.
- Making producers (the companies that design, make and sell products and packaging) fully responsible for managing the waste generated from their products and packaging
- By making producers fully accountable, they will:
- Gain insights into creating better products and packaging that is recyclable
- Put less packaging on their products
- Help develop better recycling technology and processes
What is York Region doing?
York Region, through its Integrated Waste Management Master Plan, also known as the SM4RT Living Plan, is developing a strategy to support businesses and residents in reducing their use of single-use items. A key part of this strategy development includes resident input through surveys and engagement.
In Summer 2021 the Region conducted a Single-Use Items Survey, and a “Waste Wiz” quiz. The survey results provided insights on how and why single-use items are used in York Region, while the waste quiz indicated which single-use items cause confusion when sorting waste for recycling.
In Fall 2021 York Region Accessibility Advisory Committee provided input on potential barriers and impacts reducing single-use items may have on those with disabilities.
The findings from these engagements have been summarized in a Single-Use Items “What You Said” Report. The feedback helped us:
- Confirm residents want single-use items reduced
- Identify commonly used single-use items to target in future reduction programs
- Understand why single-use items are so widely used and what can help prevent this; for example, most respondents would like businesses to ask first before giving them a single-use item, an insight we will share with businesses
- Respond to the draft Federal Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulation with recommendations to reduce the impact on people living with disabilities
Feedback received from the survey, quiz and accessibility consultations will be used to inform our approach to reduce the use of single-use items in York Region while addressing accessibility needs and concerns. This includes further engagement with York Region businesses in 2022 to better understand how we, as a society, can transition away from single-use items.
For updates on future engagements and projects, please subscribe to our environmental newsletter, Splash.
What can I do?
Start by making simple, small changes in your daily routine to avoid single-use items.
Some examples are:
- Refuse single-use items, if not needed, at stores or takeout restaurants, like plastic bags and cutlery
- Use reusable alternatives, if possible, like reusable bags, water bottles, cutlery, mugs
- Choose to eat at restaurants that offer reusable options
- Choose to shop at bulk stores or refilleries (stores that offer refill stations for products like soap or household cleaners) where you can fill your own reusable containers
- Choose products with little to no packaging where possible
- Choose to make your own products like coffee, cold beverages, smoothies, lunches, toothpaste, soaps, household cleaners, rags/cloths, etc.
- Buy produce directly from farms that use less packaging
- Avoid buying individually packaged items like snack packs of crackers or cookies
- Pack leftovers in reusable containers or beeswax wraps to avoid plastic wrap
- Tell your favourite stores and restaurants you want them to offer reusable options and less single-use packaging
- If you need to use a single-use item, check york.ca/bindicator for how to properly dispose of it
Additional actions you can take
Globally and locally, there are growing movements to reduce the use of single-use items and plastics. See below for links to events, challenges and resources to reduce your use and dependence on single-use items.
- City of Markham – Single-Use Plastics
- Town of Newmarket – Environmental Initiatives and Events
- City of Richmond Hill – Reducing Single-Use Items
- York Farm Fresh - Local Farmers’ Markets
- York Region Food Network - Greener Giving Series
How businesses can make a difference
The York Region Single-Use Items survey completed in 2021 by the public (1,980 respondents in total) indicated:
- 87% would like businesses to ask first before giving them a single-use item
- 78% would choose to shop at stores that were actively trying to reduce single-use items
- 76% would use a service that directed them to businesses reducing their use of single-use items
York Region and its local municipalities are working together to support businesses that want to reduce single-use items. As a first step we surveyed over 70 businesses to better understand how single-use items are used and distributed, and what barriers businesses may have to reducing these items.
Once survey results are summarized, we will share results here.
The information and feedback gathered through this survey is being used to:
- Gauge the level of interest and business support in York Region to reduce single-use items
- Develop tools to support and assist businesses in implementing an ‘Ask First’ policy and to encourage customers to bring their own reusable items
- Develop a recognition program to showcase businesses that are successfully reducing or eliminating single-use items
Facts and stats
- We use between 9 and 15 billion plastic bags a year, which is enough to circle the globe 55 times (Toronto Sun, 2017)
- More than a billion used coffee pods make their way into Canadian landfills every year (TVO, 2017)
- More than 1 billion plastic bottles are thrown away and not recycled in Ontario every year (Environmental Defence)
- 57 million straws are used every day (The Globe and Mail, 2018)
- 2.6 million single-use beverage containers go to Vancouver landfills every week (Global News, 2017)
- The City of Toronto estimates that more than one million single-use coffee cups are disposed of per day in the City (McMaster, 2009)
- We generate 3.25 million tonnes of plastic waste – 140,000 garbage trucks’ worth – each year (Huffington Post, 2018)
- In 2010, Canada released about 8,000 tonnes of plastic waste into waterways (Government of Canada, 2018)
- Since 1994, 700,000 volunteers have collected more than 1.2 million kg of waste from shorelines across Canada (Government of Canada, 2018)
- 80 per cent of litter in the Great Lakes is plastic (Environmental Defence)
- Canada recycles 11 per cent of all plastics produced (Global News, 2018)
- Eighty-seven per cent of birds in the Canadian Arctic have ingested plastics of some sort (Green Peace)
- Paper and plastic make up roughly 20 per cent of the waste collected from homes in Ottawa, Ont. Approximately 55 per cent of that waste currently ends up in the landfill (The Weather Network, 2016)
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute (EcoWatch, 2014)
- Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture (Center for Biological Diversity)
- Roughly 4.9 billion tons of plastic waste produced since the 1950s hasn’t been recycled or burned; plastic production is expected to double over the next two decades (Axois, 2018)
- 275 million metric tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes entering the ocean (ScienceMag, 2015)
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times (Reuse This Bag, 2018)
- The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2008)
- Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes (Environment Massachusetts)