Plastic Straws: Canada’s Plastic Ban Explained

Why Canada is banning plastic straws. Here’s what to use instead

When it comes to plastic straws, Canada is taking action.

On June 10, 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government’s intention to ban plastic straws, bags and all other single-use plastics by early 2021 in efforts to reduce non-recyclable waste. 

The Prime Minister stated that, “Canadians know first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution, and are tired of seeing their beaches, parks, streets and shorelines littered with plastic waste”.  

On top of this, several companies in Canada have also pledged to ban plastic straws in their facilities—including coffee chain Starbucks, which will eliminate all plastic straws from its stores worldwide by 2020.

While experts suggest the straws themselves only make up a tiny fraction of plastic in our oceans and coastlines, the plan marks the start of concerted effort to reduce our dependence on single-use plastic.

Here’s what you need to know.



How has Canada responded to Trudeau’s proposed plastic ban?

The response hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. And if you’re good at understanding both sides of the story, you might be able to understand why.

From an economic standpoint, this ban has the potential to hurt small businesses. To investigate this potential roadblock, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has called for an assessment to see how this ban might affect small businesses.

For First Nations groups, this ban also proposes an issue as they rely heavily on plastic water bottles so they can get the fresh water they need.



Why are plastic straws bad for the environment?

Plastic straws negatively impact the planet in two key ways: Since they aren’t biodegradable they build up in oceans, coastlines and landfills. Secondly, the plastic itself releases chemicals into the environment that harms plant and animal life.

You might remember the glory days of plastic straws: sipping on an ice-cold soda on a hot Summer’s day without a care in the world.  But what happened after you threw them away? Plastic straws made their way into our landfills and oceans. 

All those refreshing sodas and all those straws led to a huge accumulation of plastic. In fact, plastic straws have made the top-ten list of items collected during beach cleanups. Scuba divers have even found great amounts of plastic dwelling under the sea.  But, the negative effects of plastic straws impact our land just as much as our oceans. Plastic straws are not biodegradable.

To make matters worse, over time, the straws break into smaller particles, releasing harmful chemicals and toxins that pollute the soil, air and water—harmful to plants, animals and people alike.

Millions of turtles, whales and other marine wildlife die each year from ingesting plastic or being exposed to its harmful toxins.  



The problem in Canada

Plastic straws contribute to the problems we face here in Canada and plastic straws are part of that. In total, over 10,000 tonnes of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year.

Of course, that isn’t all straws, but as a country, we use 57 million plastic straw each year. In the past 25 years, nearly 800,000 volunteers have removed over 1.3 million kilograms of trash from across Canada’s shorelines. The most commonly littered items were single-use plastic products



Are plastic straws recyclable?

Unfortunately not. Most of the plastic straws that you will encounter at fast food chains or grocery stores are polypropylene or polyethylene. The problem is that polypropylene is classified as a type 5 plastic—and unfortunately, most recycling facilities do not accept type 5 plastic.

But it isn’t just the type of plastic that causes problems. Let’s say you’ve found out that your local recycling facility does accept type 5 plastic—problem solved, right?  Plastic straws are too small and they fall through the conveyor belts, which means they are discarded due to lack of cleanliness and quality of plastic. Also, if the plastic straw is dyed black, it will not be accepted whatsoever because it has reached the end of its life cycle and is no longer a high-quality plastic. 

In Canada only about 10 percent of plastic gets recycled, but that percentage is likely to be almost zero for straws. 

There’s no winning when it comes to recycling plastic straws.



Doing your part: Alternatives to using plastic straws

Plastic straws have an average usage time of twenty minutes before we discard them – a trivial lifespan for something that will remain on the planet forever.  There are plenty of great options to replace plastic straws and ensure that you’re doing your part to combat waste. Some plastic straw alternatives include:

  •     Paper straws
  •     Steel or metal straws
  •     Hard plastic (think twisty, colourful, reusable straws)
  •     Bamboo straws
  •     Silicone straws
  •     No straw (take a sip straight from the glass)

We highly recommend checking out Plastic Alternatives: 10 Easy Options to Start Using Right Now for a more in-depth look at plastic straw alternatives. 

It looks like humanity is kicking plastic straws to the curb once and for all. Take the time to explore a viable straw alternative and keep on reducing, reusing and recycling.