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December 3, 2008
City Council takes action to reduce packaging
Today Toronto City Council took bold action to reduce retail in-store packaging and to ultimately ensure that the materials used are recyclable in the City’s Blue Bin recycling program. The policies primarily focus on reducing the volume of plastic retail shopping bags, plastic take-out food packaging and plastic water bottles.

Policies approved by Council include a requirement that, by June 1, 2009, retailers charge five cents for each single-use plastic retail shopping bag taken by a customer or provide a free alternative. In addition, all shopping bags must be compatible with the City’s recycling system by June 1, 2010. Council also voted to ban the sale of bottled water at City Civic Centres and to ban plastic take-out food containers that are not compatible with the City’s Blue Bin Program by February 28, 2011.

Following the hierarchy of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), these policies emphasize source reduction, a key component of Toronto’s overall goal to achieve 70 per cent waste diversion. Less material requiring disposal will extend the life of Toronto’s volume-based landfill. It is estimated that implementing these new measures will eventually divert more than 10,000 tonnes of waste.

“I’m very proud that Toronto is leading the way. It’s the right thing to do. Waste diversion begins with reduction and Torontonians want to reduce their dependence on disposable products,” said Mayor David Miller. “Reusable packaging options are already very popular and we know Torontonians will continue to embrace alternatives that do the right thing for the environment and the economy.”

Starting in June, 2009, and continuing over the next two years, retailers will be required to implement a range of options to enable customers to make positive environmental choices and reduce their use of single-use container packaging by taking advantage of convenient reusable alternatives (more information on specific policies can be found in the attached backgrounder).

Toronto is Canada’s largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.6 million people. It is the economic engine of Canada and one of the greenest and most creative cities in North America. In the past three years, Toronto has won numerous awards for quality, innovation and efficiency in delivering public services. Toronto’s government is dedicated to prosperity, opportunity and liveability for all its residents.

Media contacts:
Stuart Green, Deputy Communications Director, Office of Mayor David Miller,416-338-7119,;
Geoff Rathbone, General Manager, Solid Waste Management Services, 416-392- 4715,


City Council takes action to reduce packaging

As of June 1, 2009, what are retailers required to do regarding plastic bags?

Starting June 1, 2009, retailers must charge five cents for each single-use plastic retail shopping bag used by a customer or provide a free alternative. Signs must be posted to let customers know about the charge and it must be recorded on the receipt.

These retailers are also required, when requested, to fill reusable bags the customer provides in lieu of plastic shopping bags to carry out their purchases. By June 1, 2010, retailers must also ensure that they offer only bags accepted in the City’s recycling program (no biodegradable plastic bags, bags with metal grommets or other non-plastic components).

“Plastic retail shopping bag” - made of plastic film, designed to carry customer purchases from a store.

“Reusable bag” - a bag that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse that is made of cloth or other machine washable fabric or other durable material suitable for reuse.

“Biodegradable plastic bag”- a bag which is composed of, in whole or part, biodegradable plastic, Oxo-biodegradable plastics, Plastarch material, polylactide or any other plastic resin composite that is intended to degrade at a faster rate then non-biodegradable plastic film.

What are the policies regarding plastic take-out food containers?

The policies require that the City request foodservice retailer representatives, foodservice trade associations and/or other foodservice stakeholders who currently use plastic take-out food containers, to develop, by December 31, 2010, a reusable and/or refillable take-out food container, or take-out food service protocol, which will allow customers to choose a reusable packaging option.

If no reusable and/or refillable take-out food container or take-out food protocol is available by January 1, 2011, staff are asked to report back to City Council on the use of bans or financial tools regarding plastic takeout food containers.

In addition, City staff are directed to work with industry stakeholders to achieve the goal of having 50 per cent of plastic takeout food containers compatible with Toronto’s recycling program by December 31, 2009. By February 28, 2011, the sale or distribution of plastic take-out food containers that are not compatible with the City’s Blue Bin recycling program will be banned.

“Plastic Take-out Food Container” - a container made of plastic resin (including, but not limited to polystyrene, PET, polypropylene, HDPE, LDPE or any combination) in which food is packaged for customer purchase, on-site and on customer demand, for the purpose of being consumed on or off the premises.

What is the policy regarding plastic water bottles?

Toronto will ban the sale of bottled water at City Civic Centres immediately or following the expiry of any existing contracts related to the purchase or sale of bottled water. Various City divisions are also asked to work together to develop and implement a program by December 31, 2011 that bans the sale and distribution of bottled water at all remaining City facilities, improves accessibility to tap water at all City facilities and takes into account existing contracts related to bottled water at City facilities and unique public health and safety related situations.

What do the policies say regarding hot drink cups?

City staff are directed to meet with industry stakeholders on possible alternatives to existing hot drink cups and report back to the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee in April, 2009.

Why is it important to reduce in-store packaging?

The approved policies follow the hierarchy of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), putting the emphasis on reduction first, and are designed to:
o minimize the volume of waste generated that requires landfill disposal;
o benefit the environment by conserving natural resources;
o reduce climate-change impact;
o reduce litter;
o respond to the public’s request that we address waste packaging and assist them to reduce their volume-based Solid Waste Management Fee; and
o maintain consumer health and safety.

How does in-store packaging reduction help Toronto achieve 70% diversion by 2010?

By focusing on reducing packaging waste, there will be considerably less material sent to landfill and less litter. Overall there will be less to collect, sort, process, haul and manage through the system. The energy and cost to recycle material will also be avoided. Both recycling and disposal require the use of energy and transportation, produce greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution.

What types of in-store packaging are addressed?

The report identifies several types of packaging for source reduction including hot drink cups, plastic retail shopping bags and single-use plastic food packaging. There are a variety of viable reusable alternatives for such single-use items such as hot drink cups and shopping bags. All three types of packaging are generated at the point-of-purchase within Toronto’s boundaries and are therefore suitable to be municipally regulated.

What do the policies ask of residents?

The policies offer residents, as consumers, incentives to make positive environmental choices and the ability to reduce their use of single-use container packaging. The proposed policies offer customers convenient reusable alternatives. On the occasion that they have to use retailer-supplied, single-use containers, the containers must eventually be compatible with Toronto’s recycling program.

Will the packaging reduction policies hurt Toronto’s businesses?

The City’s policies are designed to have a low administrative and financial impact on retailers and are intended to continue to keep Toronto businesses competitive with others outside our boundaries. Our intention is not to increase the baseline price of products. The policies are consistent with the goals of the Target 70 Plan to offer residents information and tools to make environmentally responsible choices, consider customer convenience, maintain Waste Diversion Ontario funding and maximize the efficiencies of collection and processing of recyclables.

Why are biodegradable bags not accepted in the City’s recycling program?

Biodegradable plastic bags look the same as other types of traditional plastic bags, but they are made out of different material than the plastic bags we take for recycling. Biodegradable plastic bags would contaminate our sorting, processing and the material we supply to our end markets. Products made out of recycled plastic bags, such as benches, chairs, tables, would be structurally weakened if they contained biodegradable content that is designed to break down over time.

Why reduce the use of plastic retail shopping bags when the City plans to add them to its recycling program?

In the hierarchy of the 3Rs, reducing is always preferable to reusing or recycling. While recycling is better for the environment than landfill disposal, it still requires the use of energy and transportation along with the accompanying environmental and financial costs. Simply reducing the amount of waste we manage by reducing the number of plastic bags, reduces our overall environmental impact.

Are any other types of in-store packaging addressed?

The report recommends that staff be permitted to suggest additional in-store packaging materials that can be considered for similar packaging reduction policies.

How much could these policies divert from landfill?

According to audit data supplied by industry associations and our own City data, plastic bags, hot drink cups and polystyrene packaging take up valuable landfill space, upwards of approximately 44,000 cubic metres of landfill capacity a year. Plastic bags and take-out food containers do not degrade in landfill. While the paper part of most hot drink cups will break down in landfill over time, this degradation contributes to methane gas production.

Does the policy address packaging produced by manufacturers or distributors?

Yes, it recommends that the In-Store Packaging Working Group reconvene as a Packaging Reduction Working Group by expanding its membership to include factory packaging representatives. This Group would develop a range of options for the City to reduce this type of packaging, including a program where customers could remove factory packaging at the point-of-purchase and leave it behind at the retail location and report back on their findings.

Do the policies recommend reduction management tools such as bans, taxes or deposit-return programs?

Staff explored the concept of banning all of the targeted materials but concluded it was too onerous, inconvenient and impractical for both retailers and residents. Single-use packaging should still be available provided it is compatible with the City’s recycling programs.

It would appear that currently the City of Toronto Act does not allow the City impose a sales tax on any of the three targeted in-store packaging types. Deposit-return programs are typically run at a provincial level due to the complexities of managing and administering the system. A deposit-return system at the City level would be vulnerable to border issues, difficult to administer, be open to fraud and put a burden on retailers. More details on all of these options are available in the original report.

How will the City enforce these policies with Toronto retailers?

Solid Waste Management staff will work with appropriate staff from Municipal Licensing and Standards, Legal Services, Toronto Public Health and any other appropriate divisions, to develop wording for a by-law on enforcement protocol and recommended fines for violation, in the range of $100 - $400 per offence.



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