Ditching disposables: switching from single-use to reusable in Toronto restaurants

Are you a food service business looking for resources to reduce single-use foodware? Check out our resources page.

Project Background

In response to concerns over increases in plastic pollution and to the federal government’s decision to ban some single-use plastic items by 2023, the City of Toronto has focused on reducing plastic waste as part of its Long-Term Waste Management Strategy. The City of Toronto has also approved the Single-Use and Takeaway Items Reduction Strategy use and takeaway items regardless of the material type and the waste stream in which they are currently managed.

In anticipation of policy changes, and to increase sustainability, several restaurant-style businesses within the City of Toronto have considered or implemented programs to reduce their plastic footprint. This includes reducing the use of single-use plastics, which is sometimes facilitated by enabling reusable alternatives.

Since 2021, we are working with Toronto Environmental Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, to identify the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing reusable programs in local businesses within the City of Toronto.

This project aims to:

  1. Assess the level of participation in reducing single-use plastic items in local businesses within the City of Toronto.
  2. Determine the challenges and opportunities that local businesses experience with implementing reusables programs.
  3. Determine the perceptions of consumers around supporting businesses with or without programs that reduce single-use plastic items.
  4. Provide resources to businesses that include practical guidance to be successful.


Phase 1

Our report includes the results of a 2021 study on the challenges and opportunities for reducing single-use foodware and switching to reusable options in local food service businesses. Surveys and interviews were conducted with 12 small businesses from across Toronto including sit-down restaurants, quick-service restaurants, cafes and a bakery. Our findings summarize the potential for success in increasing and sustaining the use of reusable takeout options across Toronto to reduce single-use waste and plastic pollution.

Phase 2

In 2022, our study evaluated the attitudes and how ready the food service businesses and their customers are to both reduce single-use foodware and adopt reusable alternatives. Our research focused on the Waterfront Business Improvement Area (WBIA) – a busy pedestrian area that includes dense residential, employment and recreation (tourist) areas and food service businesses selling ready-to-eat food. Observational data were collected from 90 businesses and surveys were conducted with 45 businesses from the Waterfront Business Improvement Area (WBIA), including sit-down restaurants, quick-service restaurants, and coffee shops. Surveys were also conducted with 100 customers from the same area. Businesses and customers were asked about their current practices, perceptions, and support for regulations on single-use and reusable foodware.

What’s next?

In 2023, we are continuing our partnership with Toronto Environmental Alliance and welcoming Green Neighbours Network to reach food service businesses around Toronto to collect baseline data regarding the businesses’ habits, their single-use foodware inventory, and perceptions about waste and customers’ habits.

Because our baseline data from previous years suggests customers and businesses want more information about the costs, benefits and feasibility of switching to reusables, we are also providing information and educational materials to promote and encourage further actions to reduce single-use foodware.

The data generated from this project will be used to inform decision-makers as they consider new policies to reduce single-use plastic items.

For more information, please email Rafaela F. Gutierrez

This project is in collaboration with Toronto Environmental Alliance.