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restaurant food containers take away food delivery sustainable plastic ban

Canada’s Plastic Ban on Food Containers and Sustainable Alternatives

The food take-out and delivery business was a lifeline for many restaurants during the pandemic.  When in-person dining was on lock-down, the only revenue stream restaurants could leverage was their food delivery business. Unfortunately, the increased customer demand for take-out service, increased the amount of disposable food containers and packaging in our waste system. 

The growing consumption of single-use plastics presents a global environmental pollution crisis. Because plastic has been the material of choice for many products including disposable dinnerware, its global production has doubled every ten years. 

Like many first world countries, Canada has a plastic pollution problem. According to the Environmental Defence report, Canada disposes of 90% of its plastic waste which is roughly equivalent to about 4,426 kilo tonnes of plastic discarded each year of which 50% is food packaging.

In an effort to reduce the gap between the amount of plastic packaging that is currently consumed and disposed of each year and the country’s aim to eliminate plastic packaging waste by 2030, governments at all levels, from municipal to federal, are working together to develop a solution. 

On June 20, 2022, the Government of Canada announced a ban on single-use plastics. The regulations prohibit the manufacturing, importing and sale of six categories of single use-plastics including plastic bags, disposable plastic cutlery, beverage ring carriers, plastic stir sticks and restaurant food containers particularly those that contain expanded or extruded polystyrene foam, polyvinyl chloride, carbon black and and oxo-degradable plastic. 


Timeline for the Ban on Plastics in Canada

Any establishment using single-use plastic bags and containers such as retailers, hotels, food services of all types (food trucks, cafes, bakeries, fast food, casual and fine dining restaurants), are affected by this new regulation. The Canadian government outlined the definition of these six affected plastic categories and proposed a graduated timeline for phasing out the products so that businesses have time to deplete their current stock and start finding alternatives to plastic materials.


restaurant food containers take away food delivery sustainable plastic ban

Below is a table of the banned plastic product categories with a definition of what each category includes and the proposed material alternatives to replace plastic based takeout or food delivery packaging and supplies. 

Plastic ProductsDescriptionAlternatives
Check out BagsPlastic bags for carrying purchased goods at the point of sale in a retail establishmentUse your own fabric bag, bring a paper bag or reuse plastic bags you have for as long as possible
CutleryPlastic disposable knives, forks, spoons, sporks and chopsticksOffer birch or bamboo cutlery including knives, spoons, forks, sporks, chopsticks
Ring carriersPlastic rings that fit around the beverage containers and designed to carry multiple beverages like a 6 pack togetherDisplay them on the shelves or bag them together
Stir Sticks and lid coverPlastic stir sticks for stirring and plastic lid plugs that prevent liquids from spillingBamboo stir sticks or lid with spout cover built-in
Food service warePlastic food containers like clamshell containers, lidded containers, boxes, cups, plates or bowls which contain expanded or extruded polystyrene foam, polyvinyl chloride, carbon black or an oxo-degradable plasticBamboo fibre, bagasse pulp, kraft paper food containers have no plastic. 
StrawsStraight or flexible straws which have a corrugated section that allows the straw to bend or packaged with beverage containersPaper straws or bamboo straws. 


The Government of Canada in collaboration with local municipalities are supporting the transition to plastic free food containers. Some municipalities, such as those in the Greater Vancouver region, are accepting plastic products including cutlery into their recycling stream as a way to deplete those already in circulation. The Government published the timeline for this transition and the approximate dates for the ban so that industry can prepare for the mandatory replacement of single-use plastic. Learn more by downloading this document.


Item TypeManufacture and import of plastics for sale in CanadaSaleManufacture, import or sale for Export
Checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks, straws*December 20, 2022December 20, 2023December 20, 2025
Ring CarriersJune 20, 2023June 20, 2024December 20, 2025
Flexible straws packaged with beverage containersNot applicableJune 20, 2024December 20, 2025


The Various Types of Plastics Used for Food Containers 

A majority of food containers are made from plastics because they are sturdy, heat-resistant and possess properties that create the ideal condition for food storage. They are also cheap to produce making them an attractive option for restaurants that operate with thin margins. 

The most widely used food containers are made from synthetic plastics which are derived from crude oil, natural gas or coal (fossil fuels) and refined into ethane and propane. Ethane and propane are then treated with heat in a process called “cracking” which turns them into ethylene and propylene. These two are combined to create different polymers such as polyethylene and polystyrene and then injected into the container molds to produce the take out food containers. Most take away food containers are made from these types of plastic. 

  1. Polypropylene (PP) used for microwavable food containers and condiment packaging.
  2. Polystyrene (PS) is the lightweight, rigid plastic used for clamshells, bowls, trays
  3. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is a clear lightweight plastic typically used as a cover lid for food containers.
  4. Polyethylene (PE) is a flexible plastic used as food bags typically in grocery and produce

Containers made with these plastics are non biodegradable and with its widespread use, we are racing against the rapid growth of its disposal in our landfills.


Alternatives to Plastic Foodware Containers and Cutlery

Companies continue to innovate with new materials to find more eco-friendly alternatives to plastics. Compostable and biodegradable materials are becoming more popular due to their ability to break down easily and naturally thus lessening the impact on the environment. The most common alternative materials for food packaging include bioplastics, paper and cardboard, bagasse, bamboo and polylactic acid (PLA).

Bioplastics are made from plant-based renewable resources such as cornstarch, sugarcane and potato starch. While they are more sustainable than traditional plastics made from fossil fuels, the product process can still involve significant energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, some bioplastics may not biodegrade quickly or completely under certain conditions and may require composting facilities to break down properly.

Containers made of kraft paper or cardboard is another sustainable option for food packaging but is much less durable than plastic. Paper and cardboard are more vulnerable to mold, fire and water. They don’t have the ability to hold as much weight because they are not as durable and strong or  to retain temperatures well or as long as other more durable materials like bagasse and bioplastic. Because of its poor barrier properties, some are coated with oil and water repellents – chemicals that could affect how they are disposed of. However, there are kraft based containers coated with plant-based poly lactic acid (PLA) making them biodegradable with very little to no impact on the environment. 

restaurant food containers take away food delivery sustainable plastic ban

Bagasse is a byproduct of the sugarcane process. It is the fibrous residue that remains after the sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. It is biodegradable and compostable. Because it is derived from the waste produced by the sugar-making process, it is a sustainable and organic option and contributes to the zero waste initiative. The only drawback is that bagasse tends to lose its strength and durability at temperatures above 95 degrees celsius. However, it ranks high as a healthier alternative for storing food.

Bamboo containers are made from the pulp of bamboo plants. Its properties are appealing and suitable for food packaging as well as disposable cutlery. Bamboo is renewable, biodegradable and has natural antibacterial properties. It is stronger than bagasse and can withstand higher temperatures without losing its durability.

Polylactic acid (PLA) is made from starches and sugars of corn. The corn is milled and the sugars are fermented into lactic acid. It’s a natural polymer designed to substitute widely used petroleum-based plastics like PET (polyethene terephthalate). PLA is used to produce clear cups, lids and salad boxes and also used as a layer of coating on kraft paper based containers to repel water and oil. The downside to PLA based food containers is that it requires specific conditions for it to be properly composted and must be sorted separately in a closed composting environment otherwise it contaminates the recycling stream.

A Transition Plan for Compliance

All of these alternative materials are considered environmentally friendly and sustainable. But before deciding to switch from plastic based containers to biodegradable or compostable ones, be sure to check with your local waste management program to ensure that the food containers you invest in are truly providing the positive impact that you intended.

For a selection of biodegradable food containers, visit our shop and let us help you with your transition for compliance with the new regulations.


restaurant food containers take away food delivery sustainable plastic ban