Quentin de Becker doesn't go anywhere without his coffee travel mug. As a member of an environmental advocacy group, it would be a bad look to order coffee in a disposable cup. But it wasn't always easy to persuade cafes and restaurants to fill his mug, particularly during the pandemic when servers were told to stop for health reasons.

Now, since Toronto’s new Single-Use and Takeaway Items Bylaw came into effect on March 1, it's much simpler to enjoy drinks in his reusable cup.

“We welcome the new bylaw in a positive way to reduce waste and single items,” said de Becker, a member of Scarborough Zero Waste, which has long advocated for such mandatory policies by the city.

Before March, de Becker had to search for places that accepted reusables. But now all restaurants, coffee shops and stores must use customers' cups and bags if they’re clean and in good repair. If businesses refuse, they could face fines of between $500 and $100,000.

“Sometimes, I have no choice but to use a single-use cup, but I regularly use my reusable because even in big coffee shops, they cannot refuse it, and it is convenient to have this option,” said de Becker. “It is a strength as long as you know that the bylaw exists.”

The new bylaw under Bill 64 was passed by Toronto city council in December. Along with new requirements for reusable items, businesses are also now required to only hand out single-use items and paper shopping bags at a customer’s request, and must ask before distributing them. As well, bags must comply with waste diversion program standards set by the City of Toronto and must not include metal grommets or plastic handles.

The city said it will cost $250,000 in 2024 to enforce the program, and $100,000 in both 2025 and 2026.

The new rules are welcome news to de Becker. “It is good for the environment, and we really need to have more citizens exercise their rights and use more reusables.”

Still, he points out the bylaw only partially addresses the waste problem. For example, the rules don't apply to large events and street festivals where drinks and food are served in single-use containers. And he says it is time for big corporations and the city to start using reusables to reduce waste for their own events.

The new rules are welcome news to Quentin de Becker. “It is good for the environment, and we really need to have more citizens exercise their rights and use more reusables," he said. #ReusableCup #Toronto #SingleUseItems #Reusable

Luis Hernandez, owner of Pomarosa, a restaurant in Toronto’s central east end, echoes de Becker's sentiment. He sees the bylaw as a beneficial move for restaurants and coffee shops in the long run.

“It encourages sustainable practices and reduces environmental impact by minimizing single-use plastics,” said Hernandez. “Embracing reusable items promotes a greener approach to dining, aligning with growing consumer preferences for eco-friendly businesses.”

However, he acknowledges there are costs associated with the transition.

“There may be initial investments required for purchasing reusable containers, utensils and other items, said Hernandez. Yet, over time, these investments can lead to cost savings by reducing the need to continuously purchase disposable plastics, he added.

Hernandez suggests the city could incentivize businesses to comply with the bylaw by offering subsidies for sustainable alternatives. Educational resources and outreach programs would further aid businesses in adapting to the changes seamlessly, he added.

Angela Doyle, manager of solid waste policy and planning for the City of Toronto, said the bylaw is designed to reduce unnecessary use of single-use and takeaway items and eliminate them from landfills, becoming litter or entering Toronto's waterways.

Toronto is moving toward a circular economy, where waste is reduced and resources are maximized, Doyle noted. The single-use mentality is being replaced with a system that focuses on product longevity, renewability, reuse and repair, she added.

The bylaw also does not encourage substitutes, such as trading Styrofoam cups for paper. The city is committed to helping businesses comply with the bylaw through targeted education and outreach activities, Doyle said.

“By reducing the distribution of single-use items, such as utensils, straws, stir sticks, condiment packets, napkins and beverage takeout trays, businesses can benefit the environment and reduce their overhead costs.”

In 2025, there will be a report back to city council on additional measures aimed at further reducing single-use and takeaway items, including at large-event venues in Toronto, Doyle said. At that time, the city will consider acceptance at retail businesses of reusable food containers provided by customers and mandated use of reusable food containers and beverage cups at dine-in operations.

A joint survey conducted last year by the University of Toronto (U of T) Trash Team, Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), and Green Neighbours Network (GNN) found that 92 per cent of customers in the city want businesses to take more action to reduce waste, including single-use items. Also, researchers from the U of T Trash Team and PortsToronto reported that their trash traps removed nearly 63,000 pieces of plastic from Toronto Harbour over six months last year, contributing to a total of 43 kilograms of garbage removed from the water.

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