Montreal restaurants prepare for single-use plastic ban that takes effect next week

Montreal restaurants prepare for single-use plastic ban that takes effect next week

Chris Feng recently opened a bubble tea shop in Montreal, serving flavourful fluids in transparent plastic cups that show off the drinks' vibrant colours and fruits inside.

"We have real fruits inside. The mangos and strawberries, that kind of stuff. It's very good for taking good photos," said Feng, owner of Thé Jà Vu.

In that way, the exotic-looking drinks generate free marketing as customers post images to social media, complete with the company's logo emblazoned on the clear plastic, Feng said.

But that's all going to change next week. Montreal's bylaw banning certain single-use plastic items in restaurants and other food establishments comes into force on March 28.

"I totally understand it is good for the environment," said Feng, who supports the regulation from an ecological standpoint.

His concern, however, is that switching to paper cups will reduce his online reach and cost more.

"With the paper cup, you can't see anything inside," said Feng, and paper cups will cost eight to 20 percent more.

"We already changed our straws to paper straws. This is around five percent higher than the regular, plastic straws."

That potential cost increase is going to be a challenge, especially in the current economy, he said.

No plastic cups, straws, utensils 

Montreal's single-use plastic ban targets items used to package or consume a food item, distributed individually and intended to be used only once or for a short time before being discarded.

All plastics, including compostable plastics, will be banned for cups, stirring sticks, straws, and utensils used for on-site consumption.

Simon Nakonechny/CBC
Simon Nakonechny/CBC

Polystyrene No. 6 and compostable plastics will be banned for plates, containers, lids and trays (except those used for raw meat and fish). Plastic utensils will also be banned for delivery and takeout orders.

The ban has some exceptions. For example, foods pre-packed in plastic outside the business are allowed and the ban will not affect nonprofit food-aid organizations.

Restaurant Shifu owner Andy Choy said he opened his place a couple of months ago, and knowing the bylaw was coming in, he serves authentic Chinese food in custom-made, compostable packaging.

Though the packaging is costly, he said it was important to not only obey the bylaw but also do his part for the environment.

"I feel like it's one step forward to helping the planet," Choy said. "It's something we all wanted to do, all the partners."

Thousands of businesses affected

Verdun borough mayor Marie-Andrée Mauger is the city's executive committee member responsible for ecological transition and the environment.

"We know that we will have to change some habits," said Mauger, and that's part of her ecological transition efforts. "This bylaw is really about transitioning toward habits that reduce the waste that we produce."

There are more than 8,000 businesses that will need to transition toward paper or fiber-sourced items so they become recyclable or compostable, Mauger said. But there are alternatives, such as encouraging customers to bring their own reusable containers or developing a reusable container program.

The city has been contacting businesses, providing a list of various alternatives to single-use plastic, she said.

Right now, she added, the city is providing more public trash cans than ever before, and despite emptying them often, "it's never enough" because the consumption of single-use plastic keeps increasing.

"Hopefully we will see a change," Mauger said. "I know it will be challenging."