TORONTO — IKEA and A&W are the latest big chains to join the war against single-use plastics, with each promising to limit waste production amid a growing public outcry over pollution.
IKEA said Friday it would eliminate single-use plastic products from its shelves by 2020, including straws, plates, cups, freezer bags, garbage bags and plastic-coated paper plates and cups.
And A&W Canada said it wanted to be the first fast food chain in North America to eliminate plastic straws with a plan to stop using them by the end of the year.
The company says it will offer compostable paper straws instead. The move is expected to keep 82 million plastic straws out of landfills each year.
Christine Ball of the Ecobusiness Network, which helps businesses reduce their environmental footprint, says shifting to more eco-conscious practices is an increasing concern for many companies.
And she says moves by large players like IKEA and A&W can have a big impact on the broader sector.
“When you start talking about something small like straws then you start to rethink the entire industry — you start rethinking how you’re using plastics overall,” says Ball, based in Whitby, Ont.
“The general public and business (both) start to rethink: ’OK, where else am I using these single-use plastics in my life where I don’t need to be?’”
And it doesn’t stop with plastic, she adds.
Ball points to a growing interest in the circular economy, in which manufacturing involves recycled materials and waste is eliminated or reused elsewhere. She points to one member company that produces a lot of cork waste, and efforts by the network to connect it to other organizations that grind cork to make cork floors.
“Businesses are looking for new solutions as far as waste is concerned. Plastic is a part of it but businesses in our area that we talk to, they’re looking at an overall solution: ‘How do we deal with my organics? How do I deal with my plastics? My paper and my trash?’ I think that the plastics is amazing but it is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Indeed, there have been an array of anti-plastic pledges in recent months: hotels including the Marriott and Holiday Inn Express have dumped their complimentary tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles in favour of larger containers that are attached to the bathroom wall; Montreal became the largest Canadian municipality to ban single-use plastic bags earlier this week, and Prince Edward Island is gearing up to become to the first province to do the same.
IKEA Canada’s head of sustainability says the company hasn’t determined what alternatives it will offer to single-use plastics, which will also be phased out from customer and co-worker restaurants, bistros, and cafes by the end of 2019.
But when IKEA committed to offering only LED lighting, he notes that forced the supply chain to come up with solutions quickly.
“We’re hopeful that the commitment that we’re making around the single use plastics will actually encourage others to join us in this journey and then the suppliers that we work with, they can innovate or bring new products to market that will help us fulfil these ambitions,” says Brendan Seale.
“In part, it’s an effort to shift the industry, and I think we have an opportunity and the ability to do that based on our scale. And if other large companies can do the same, then I think we’ll see fairly rapid movement on this.”
He says IKEA is keen to join the circular economy by looking at new ways to work with renewable and recycled materials, and prolong the life of its products.
Seale says IKEA has already taken some steps towards that: its Tanum woven rug is made from off-cuts from production of bed linens; the PS vase is made from the broken glass from production of other IKEA products; and a black matte cabinet door called Kungsbacka is made from recycled wood and PET plastic bottles.
That’s important to consumers like Sophi Robertson of Toronto, who has been striving to produce zero waste since 2016.
“I try to avoid a lot of the bigger chains but at the same time I try to also support (them) when I see that they’re making those kinds of changes,” says the 39-year-old Robertson, who estimates her family has produced one grocery bag of garbage in the past five months.
“I think the big companies are the ones that kind of have to be the leaders in making these changes happen so that everyone else can follow.”