By mid-2024, Ottawa, Canada grocers hope to have a reusable packaging system going for customers. | Deemerwha Studio/Shutterstock

Major grocery retailers and other foodservice businesses in Ottawa, Ontario will start selling foods in reusable, returnable containers later this year through a first-of-its-kind pilot program to help reduce single-use plastic packaging, according to a press release from the pilot’s organizers.

The Circular Innovation Council, a Canadian nonprofit focused on fostering a circular economy, announced earlier this month that it’s collaborating with partners that include the city and retailers like Walmart Canada, Metro and Sobeys to kick off the pilot in mid-2024. 

The pilot program will use a common pool of containers shared among the participants, which their customers can choose at no additional cost and return through drop-off locations and other options. It aims to establish a committed coalition that can provide large-scale reuse solutions, gather data for future efforts and test out standardized containers and processing methods, among other goals

“Reuse is a critical pathway to transitioning Canada to a circular economy and to eliminating single use plastics,” Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of Circular Innovation Council, said in a written statement. 

“The cooperation and collaboration between our participating grocery retailers and the Government of Canada is truly unique and demonstrates their commitment to addressing the plastic waste crisis,” she added. “Canadians have voiced their environmental and cost concerns around the plastic crisis and are wanting innovative solutions.”

With its multitude of forms and chemical compositions, issues with public education and trust and other factors, supermarket plastic packaging is thrown away more often than not, according to The Recycling Partnership and other observers. The U.S. EPA and other environmental organizations also often favor reuse over recycling thanks to its energy and resource savings. 

Many of the participating retailers and producers have declared their intent to reduce packaging waste and step up recyclability and reusability as a result. Metro aims to make 100% of its brand packaging recyclable, reusable or home-compostable by 2030, for example, and Walmart Canada is aiming for 100% recyclable packaging for its private brands next year

“We have the reach and responsibility to explore new and innovative ways to eliminate even more plastics from our supply chain,” said Kristi Lalach, senior vice president of legal and sustainability at Empire Company Limited, another partner in the pilot project. “Participating in the design of a program that would give customers a way to reuse containers from the deli and takeaway counters is a step in the right direction for our customers, our communities, and the environment.”

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