The Future of Single-Use Plastics

Alex Downey | June 11, 2019

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Recently the Prime Minister announced the intention to ban single-use plastics by 2021, and work with provinces and territories to introduce standards for plastic product manufacturers and the companies that sell their products in plastic.1 A lot of this single use packaging comes from the print industry and regardless of how successful the country will be in this effort to reduce single use plastic, there is currently a desire from people to reduce their consumption, and the print industry can be involved in meeting that demand. Here are some ideas of how:

Stickers: If certain brands or stores start using reusable containers that the store takes back, like Loblaws has announced, these containers could still have a need for promoting their brand colours and designs to interest you in the product.2 These would still need the same colour accuracy that many brands want, while needing to be removable at the point the container is reclaimed/washed and reused. The stickers themselves would end up in a landfill at the end of each use but would be a reduction in the amount of waste produced.

Fulfillment: Home meal kits have had some popularity recently and many market themselves as an alternative to take out, or as a time saver from having to pick out your own groceries. Some contain a lot of packaging, while others use minimal (with paper bags and cardboard partitions in a box, which often still need printing on them). We have seen some print companies use our software for a range of products and services they provide, including Build to Order Kits. While fulfilling food orders may not be a business your print shop is looking to get into, providing your expertise and experience in fulfillment with print may be something you could offer to a startup or another company looking to take on a partnership or that role for the changing market of food fulfillment.

Design: Graphics, asset management, branding; none of this is going away. Some printers already help manage this for their clients, and in the past with some customers choosing to produce content online that they otherwise would have printed, many companies have already done a good job of promoting themselves as more than just a printer to their clients. Alternatively, if the client feels they need to keep using a disposable plastic product but are not feeling great about it the creativity of your design team could help. One Vancouver grocery store knew they needed to have plastic bags available to their customer, but have put embarrassing fake company names on the bags such as, “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium” and “Dr. Toews Wart Ointment Wholesale”.3 It helps make their customers consider if they actually need the bag, while generating some positive publicity for them.  

Know what you are currently selling: If you believe that something your team produces is currently the most sustainable option, share why with the customer. Many companies are receiving criticism on social media about their packaging, with questions from people asking why they chose certain options that seem wasteful. If you can provide information they can use to defend their choices, this can help stop negative attention before it starts. For example, many municipal recycling facilities have restrictions on things that can be recycled based on size or contamination, so even if the item is made of recyclable material, it can not be recycled in their blue bin.4 Letting the buyer of the packaging know information on how to dispose of them, or at least prepare a response for if they face scrutiny could prevent bad press.

Suggesting alternatives: Maybe you already help produce these kind of single-use plastic products for your customers; can you suggest alternative materials or sizing for their existing to reduce their product’s waste? If not, will someone else? In Toronto, black plastic can not be sorted mechanically at the recycling facility, so this material can not be recycled.5 Simply choosing a different colour plastic could make your product recyclable.

Target more appropriate uses: There will still be a need for single use plastics in medical and science situations where reuse is not an option. Focus on promoting your business to companies that will still have a need for your products instead of chasing after customers who are not interested.  


In-text citations

1“Canada to Ban Harmful Single-Use Plastics and Hold Companies Responsible for Plastic Waste.” Canada to Ban Harmful Single-Use Plastics and Hold Companies Responsible for Plastic Waste, 10 June 2019,

2Rubin, Josh. “Loblaws to Sell Products in Reusable Containers in Toronto-Area Trial.”, Toronto Star, 6 June 2019,

3Woods, Melanie. “Vancouver Grocery Store Tries To Shame You Out Of Using Plastic Bags.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 7 June 2019,

4“Want to Recycle Your Tassimo Coffee Pods in Quebec City? You'll Have to Ship Them for $50 | CBC News.” CBC News, CBC/Radio Canada, 27 Aug. 2015,

5“What Goes in the Blue Bin?” City of Toronto, 21 May 2019,