What is Reusable Toronto? 

Reusable Toronto is an initiative of local organizations, reuse champions, businesses, and community members, convened by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA). Together, we’re working to eliminate harmful disposables and champion a culture of reuse in Toronto through advocacy, policy change, community engagement, and on-the-ground solutions. Learn more about who is supporting the campaign.

We’re inspired by a growing movement around the world, including the work of Upstream and non-profit led campaigns like ReusableLA, ReusableSF and ReusableNYC. These jurisdictions have begun to pass new regulations that promote reuse, such as requirements for reusable dishes when dining in. 

What is the difference between single-use and reusable foodware? 

Foodware includes cups, lids, utensils, containers and bowls, stir sticks and anything used to serve prepared food. 

  • Single-use foodware is designed to be used once and is often made of single-use plastic (including styrofoam and black plastic) and most of it isn’t recyclable. Most foodware and accessories are used for just a few minutes, some for just a few seconds (e.g. stir sticks), and too often, restaurants drop utensils and condiments in the take-out bag, even if you don’t want them. These items pollute our environment, contribute to the climate crisis and harm people’s health and wellbeing.
  • Reusable foodware can be used, washed, sanitized and used again many times. Reusable cups, dishes, cutlery and containers prevent waste, and they also avoid the upstream impact of making single-use products. 

What about compostables and bioplastics? 

Bioplastics and compostables are not sustainable solutions. Most foodware labelled as “compostable” is not accepted in Toronto’s green bin and most private composting facilities. Instead, these materials are removed during processing and sent to landfills. Many compostable containers also use chemicals to line containers. 

Most importantly, simply shifting from plastic to another disposable doesn’t reduce waste: it still requires resource extraction, energy and water to create products that are used for a few minutes or a few seconds. The best solution is to shift to reusables. 

What are examples of reuse solutions? 

Reuse solutions can include: 

  • Ask-first before giving customers single-use cutlery, stir sticks, condiments and other accessories
  • Provide reusable dishes, cutlery and cups for dining-in
  • Have procedures to accept customer cups (‘Bring Your Own’ cup or container)
  • Offer reusable take-out cups and containers for customers to borrow or rent 

These reuse solutions can drastically cut the amount of plastic being produced and benefit people, businesses and the environment. Governments have an important role to pass policies that promote reuse and eliminate disposables, and invest in reuse systems. 

What are governments doing now to reduce single-use plastics? 

In response to public demand, governments are moving forward with bans and regulations to eliminate single-use plastics. 

  • The Federal government announced a national ban on single-use plastic cutlery, bags and some food containers starting in December 2023.  As the ban comes into effect, businesses will be looking for alternatives and now is the time to promote reuse as the solution. (Read their fact sheet)
  • The City of Toronto has been developing a Single-Use Reduction Strategy to reduce and eliminate unnecessary single-use foodware items and shopping bags. The City’s Strategy started with an educational phase, with regulations expected to follow in the future. While promotion and education are important, this Strategy must include by-laws and regulations to truly reduce the amount of single-use foodware items that are used in our city. The strategy needs to make reuse a key solution to single-use. 

Our local and Federal governments need to do more to eliminate disposables, and that includes reuse policies and programs for foodware. Other cities and countries around the world are passing reuse regulations that require restaurants to:

  • Ask-first before giving customers condiments, cutlery, stir sticks and other accessories
  • Provide reusable dishes, cutlery and cups for on-site food and drink
  • Have procedures to accept customer cups (‘Bring Your Own’ cup or container)
  • Offer reusable take-out cups and containers for customers to borrow or rent 

How can individuals be part of creating a reusable future? 

As individuals, you can make simple choices to reduce waste and choose reuse - such as by carrying your own container or cup when you order food or asking for your food ‘for here’ on real dishes when dining-in. It’s also great to support local businesses that are making changes and let them know you appreciate their efforts. 

Most importantly, individuals can advocate for systemic change including policies and programs that will move our entire city towards a zero waste reusable future. Join us!

How can local businesses be part of creating a reusable future? 

Businesses can do their part to reduce waste - choosing reusable foodware for dine-in and take-out, encouraging customers to bring their own containers, and looking at ways to reduce waste in the kitchen and in the restaurant.

But restaurants can also do more - they can be champions of reuse, sharing their stories to help show what’s possible and speaking out to let governments know they support reuse policies and regulations that level the playing field for all businesses. Sign up and support the campaign. 

What are the benefits of reuse for local businesses? 

Case studies from around the world, and research from right here in Toronto, show that small businesses benefit from reuse and many are looking to make more sustainable choices. Offering food in reusable foodware saves businesses money, is better for the environment, and gives a better experience for customers. 

  • Research from the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) and the UofT Trash Team found that small businesses in Toronto are already taking steps to reduce waste and see a role for the government to help them do more. (Read the report)
  • Upstream’s Reuse Wins report compares the environmental impact of different foodware, including compostable and reusable dishes, and found that reusables have the lowest environmental footprint, every time. (Read the report and the summary of benefits for businesses)
  • US project ReThink Disposable helped hundreds of small businesses swap single-use for reusable foodware, and 100% of businesses saved money, even considering the cost of the dishes and labour to wash them. (See case studies - bottom of page)