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Montreal to Outlaw Single-Use Plastics by 2023 — Here’s What That Means for Restaurants

Some restaurants are already one step ahead, with a reusable container pilot project set to take off in October

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Next year, Montreal plans to ban restaurants from distributing takeout in plastic bags. Then, six months later, utensils and other packaging items made of single-use plastics will also have to go.

Mayor Valérie Plante, who is seeking reelection in November, announced the plan to outlaw single-use plastics in restaurants and retail businesses on August 18, calling it “the most ambitious” of its kind in North America. More than anything, though, it’s necessary, she said. (Plante had previously dubbed 2020 “the last year of plastic bags in Montreal,” but the pandemic eclipsed that target.)

Despite ongoing Montreal heat waves and mounting evidence from all corners of the world, the threat of climate disaster still registers as nebulous to some, so Plante provided a fact intended to hit close to home: The landfill in Terrebonne, which serves Greater Montreal’s 82 municipalities, will be overrun by 2029 if the use of plastic isn’t significantly curtailed.

So what does this all mean for Montreal restaurants, places that have gone full steam ahead with takeout and delivery to overcome the seemingly more immediate threat of insolvency in the face of the pandemic restrictions? Well, they have just over a year (until September 1, 2022, to be exact) to find an alternative to plastic bags, and until March 2023 to figure out the rest. After that, businesses that do not comply with the new bylaw will face fines of up to $4,000.

(Exceptions to the bylaw include the polystyrene trays used to package meat and fish for sanitary reasons and the containers and cutlery used by nonprofits to distribute food.)

Anyone regularly ordering out knows that many of the city’s restaurants already use cardboard and bioplastic alternatives. A popular choice is Cambium, a compostable hybrid made of unbleached cardboard and cornstarch. A few Montreal restaurants have also adopted reusable takeout packaging schemes — many of which were suspended in the early days of the pandemic when the risk of coronavirus transmission from the surfaces of materials remained unclear.

Among them are spots like vegan falafel mini-chain La Panthère Verte, which has for years encouraged customers to bring in their own containers in exchange for a small discount. Four-year-old La-Petite-Patrie Indian snack bar La Super Qualité offers metal tiffin boxes for takeout (with a $20 deposit) — an option that owner Jennifer Zachanawich tells nonprofit CP3 Concordia roughly 50 percent of her clientele asks for.

Reusable containers shift the focus away from disposability, which remains a concern even with alternatives to non-recyclable plastic. Single-use packaging, even if compostable, expends environmentally-taxing resources during the manufacturing process, and adds to trash when not properly discarded — something to consider given the upswing in food-related litter during the pandemic.

Ahead of Plante’s announcement, a group of 60 Montreal restaurants had already committed to a pilot project that allows customers to order takeout served in reusable containers, Journal Métro reports. Hawaiian-Filipino restaurant Le Petit Vibe, Chinatown diner Dobe & Andy, and Japanese eatery Otto Bistro are among those on board with the initiative, called Bo, which asks customers to drop off containers at a designated return site within two weeks of use.