Written By: Katherine Mataya, Coastal and Marine Project Coordinator at Coastal Action
It’s no surprise that one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste comes from the food and beverage industry. In 2019, data from Adopt-a-Highway clean-ups found that 56% of the litter picked up within Nova Scotia came from food packaging. In a time when we’ve relied heavily on take-out food, this trend has only increased.
We all remember learning the 3 R’s to manage our waste – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. But with the amount of plastic we currently produce, less than 10% of it is recycled. Now is the time to shift our focus back to reducing and reusing first and foremost.
Who are we?
Coastal Action is a charitable organization located in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia that addresses environmental concerns across the province. Our goal is to restore and protect the environment for future generations, through research, education, and action. To assist in reducing plastic waste in our communities, we initiated the Ocean Friendly Nova Scotia (OFNS) program, which recognizes businesses that have eliminated single-use plastics at their establishment. We are currently expanding the program in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) through funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada’ Zero Plastic Waste Initiative.
In June 2021, Coastal Action partnered with Plastic Oceans Canada making the Town of Mahone Bay the first Canadian Blue Community. This exciting opportunity has provided great exposure for our Ocean Friendly program, and provides new opportunities for expansion. It is great to be a part of this initiative to network with other likeminded communities around the world, and work together to support healthier environments.
What is Ocean Friendly Nova Scotia?
Ocean Friendly Nova Scotia is a voluntary program geared towards food service businesses, that uses a tiered recognition system (bronze, silver, gold) to acknowledge differing efforts towards low-waste practices. Whether a business has already eliminated, or is working to eliminate single-use plastics, the OFNS program provides resources and access to alternatives for a smooth transition towards a plastic-free business. By providing free business promotion and one-on-one consultations, we work alongside local businesses to facilitate change and promote a healthier coastal and marine environment.
Eliminating Single-Use Plastics
Many of us have become accustomed to living a life of convenience. Single-use plastics have stemmed from our need to have quick, on-the-go access to food at all times. This has certainly contributed to the growing plastic problem and to the difficulty in switching to compostable and reusable alternatives.
To encourage businesses to make a change one step at a time, the OFNS program focuses on eliminating 8 of the most common customer-facing single-use plastics found in the food service industry. The following are 8 categories that businesses can focus on eliminating:
- Plastic straws
- Condiment packaging
- Stir Sticks
- Plastic Cutlery
- Styrofoam (cups, plates, to-go containers)
- Plastic Drink bottles
- Plastic to-go containers
- Coffee cups
The number of items that a business has eliminated determines the tier-level at which they can be recognized. This framework provides flexibility to get started without feeling overwhelmed. To start, Coastal Action recommends working on items that are feasible to eliminate right away. As a business’ single-use plastic stock runs out, the transition to alternatives can be made one item at a time until all items are eliminated. The goal is just to start somewhere and reach for gold at your own pace!
Why is the program focused on these items, you may ask? They’ve been chosen for a few reasons, including their negative impact on the environment and the prevalence in our daily lives. For the most part, these items have inexpensive and accessible alternatives. In October 2020, the Canadian government targeted 6 items under a single-use plastic ban to be rolled out by the end of 2021, 4 of which are identified in the list above (stir sticks, food containers, cutlery, and straws). As Canada shifts away from disposable single-use plastics, OFNS is here to offer businesses the support they need to assist in this transition.
There are a lot of local businesses that are determined to make a positive impact on the environment and are working hard to provide alternatives to single-use plastics. By challenging our regular consumer behaviour, many businesses are choosing to incorporate reusable models into their service. From renting travel mugs, to opting into a mason jar deposit program, there are many innovative ways that businesses are working to reduce their waste.
To get a better sense of the impact our program has been able to make thus far, here are some of the OFNS highlights:
- 22 Business Participants within the Halifax Regional Municipality, South Shore, Annapolis Valley, and Cape Breton
- 3,686 Single-use coffee cups diverted from landfills over a 6-month period (June – December 2019)
- 800 Plastic food containers diverted from recycling bins within 4 months (March- June 2021)
- 600 Styrofoam containers diverted from landfills within 3 months (April – June 2021)
Next time you’re wondering where to go for dinner or order take-out, choose to support your local business that’s reducing plastic waste! A commitment to a healthier environment is a commitment to a healthy community. For a full list of all the Ocean Friendly businesses throughout Nova Scotia, check out our interactive map on our website to find a business near you!