Reducing Single-Use Items

Single-use items are products and packaging designed to be used only once before they are discarded. Examples include disposable cutlery, straws, stir sticks, shopping bags, water bottles, Styrofoam and take-out containers. These items can often be avoided or replaced with reusable alternatives.

swan swimming in polluted water

Single-use items are impacting our environment 

Every year, Canadians throw away more than 3 million tonnes of plastic waste. About one-third of the plastics used in Canada are for single-use products and packaging. Most of these items are not recyclable or biodegradable and often end up as litter in the community or contamination in municipal blue box programs. 

Single-use items can negatively affect our natural environment. For example, animals can become tangled or trapped in packaging, and can mistakenly consume plastics - either directly or in the form of micro plastics once items break down and enter the food web.

Simple ways to reduce single-use items

The best way to reduce single-use items in our environment is to stop using them whenever possible. Here are some great ways to avoid single-use items:

  • Say 'no' to disposable cutlery and single-serve condiment packages when ordering take-out or delivery.
  • Avoid using plastic straws and stir sticks at home and in restaurants.
  • Shop in bulk with reusable containers and avoid purchasing items with excessive packaging.
  • Avoid purchasing plastics branded as ‘compostable’, they are not accepted in the City’s recycling or organics streams and simply break down more easily into micro plastics.

Another great way to reduce single-use items is to replace them with sustainable/reusable alternatives like the ones in the categories below.

Sustainable alternatives for:

 Out and About
Single-Use ItemSustainable Alternative
Coffee cup Reusable travel mug
Plastic water bottle Reusable water bottle
Disposable cutlery Say 'no' when ordering take-out and use your own cutlery
Disposable straw Stainless steel or silicone straw
Disposable mask and gloves Reusable cloth mask and reusable rubber/work gloves
Plastic grocery or produce bag Mesh, cloth or other reusable grocery/produce bag
 Kitchen and Home
Single-Use ItemSustainable Alternative
 Coffee pod Brewed coffee, espresso or reusable pod
 Coffee filter Reusable coffee filter
 Tea bag Loose tea and reusable infuser
 Disposable sandwich bag Reusable silicone or fabric sandwich bag, reusable container
 Parchment paper Silicone baking mat
 Plastic wrap Beeswax wrap
 Dryer sheet Dryer ball
 Bathroom and Baby
Single-Use ItemSustainable Alternative
Disposable menstrual products Silicone menstrual cup or reusable cloth pads
Disposable diapers Cloth diapers
Toilet paper made of non-recycled fibers 100% recycled toilet paper
Disposable razors & toothbrushes Reusable handle/electric option
Plastic dental floss Bamboo/natural dental floss
 Celebrations 
Single-Use ItemSustainable Alternative
Balloons Paper decorations, flowers, cloth water balloons
Gift bags and wrap Save and reuse gift bags or choose reusable cloth gift bags
Plastic tape Reusable cloth ribbon or twine
Beverage bottles/cans Soda maker
Six-pack rings Choose alternatives without plastic rings (cardboard rings or boxes)

How businesses can do their part

Businesses also play a key role in reducing single-use items. Below are some easy ways businesses including grocery stores, restaurants and retail stores can minimize their use and distribution of single-use items.

  • Implement a by-request approach for items like straws, cutlery and single-serve condiment packages (i.e. only provide these if a customer requests them). 
  • Replace single-use items with reusable alternatives or items that are more sustainable (i.e. paper straws instead of plastic ones).
  • Offer incentives to customers that bring their own reusable items such as bags.
  • Advertise the steps your business is taking to reduce single-use items and encourage customers to participate.
  • If disposable items must be used, choose options that are accepted in Richmond Hill’s recycling program. Use York Region’s Bindicator tool or download the Recycle Coach app to find out what goes where.  
  • Choose suppliers that use minimal and plastic-free packaging.
  • Display items, such as produce, loosely instead of using plastic wrap and polystyrene to bundle them.
  • Use reusable plates, cups and cutlery for staff meetings or choose a caterer that provides these.

Taking action to reduce single-use items is good for the bottom line and for our environment.

What the City of Richmond Hill is doing

The City recognizes that single-use items are harmful to the environment and strives to contribute to a more sustainable community. To lead by example, the City is developing a corporate policy to minimize the use and reliance on single-use plastics at City events and facilities. The City is also working with York Region to develop a business recognition program to identify businesses making positive environmental changes to reduce their waste and use of single-use items.