While most Ottawa restaurateurs seem to be on board with the environment-saving measures, some of the new, eco-friendly options are putting them in sticky situations.With less than a week before the first phase of Canada’s single-use plastics ban kicks in, local restaurants are having to get creative. While most Ottawa restaurateurs seem to be on board with the environment-saving measures, some of the new, eco-friendly options are putting them in sticky situations. “When we first heard about the change we had already started to switch from single-use and styrofoam to other products,” said Anish Mehra, owner and general manager of the East India Company Restaurants. “In many cases, the changes went over well.” As of Dec. 20, the manufacture and import for sale in Canada of checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks and straws – all of which are widely used by the restaurant industry — are banned. The Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations (SUPPR) are part of the federal government’s comprehensive plan to meet its target of zero plastic waste by 2030. But a more phased approach to the ban on these particular plastics would have been helpful for Mehra, who says he is now facing shortages from his supplier, as well as discrepancies in price and quality between the soon-to-be-banned products and the alternatives. “In a few of the cases, we weren't able to locate a great alternative,” explained Mehra. “And even the alternatives that do exist are often not available.” One of the biggest challenges Mehra faces is in finding adequate takeout containers for his establishment’s familiar curries and rice-based dishes. The alternative material gets soggy with moisture, he says, resulting in a messy delivery for customers when they try to take their meal out of takeout bags. “It’s not just our cuisine, almost anyone’s will have an aspect of moisture or humidity, and our alternative options just fell apart,” said Mehra. “I couldn't envision anyone using it. The only option is if it’s eaten right away.” Much of the battle is in locating a consistent supply of the alternatives, something which Amir Rahim is grateful to have achieved. Rahim, who owns the Grounded Kitchen Coffee and Bar on Gloucester Street, said he was able to get in touch with his suppliers when he first heard about the ban about a year ago. Since then, he’s managed to secure some alternatives and make plans, but he says the options largely depend on what is in stock. “I’ve made many mistakes in the past of thinking there's lots of time and then it creeps up and I have to scramble and it isn’t a good scene,” he explained. “So I find the best way to plan is to get in front of it.” Green Rebel owner Ian O’Meara says he won’t be seeing much change since the majority of the packaging used by his restaurants has been compostable since 2008. “It seems strange now, but the office towers that we operate in didn’t have compost bins back then,” said O’Meara. “We were confident that, over time, the buildings would provide compost bins and, as an environmentally aware organization, we made the choice to never use plastic products made from petroleum.” From an environmental standpoint, O’Meara said he “applauds” the ban. He also looks forward to when the increase in demand for products eventually brings down the price. At the East India Company, Mehra is just aiming to “keep the ship together.” “Right now, we’re just trying to stay ahead of the (curve) with all of the changes and make sure we’re operating,” he said. “Once the dust settles, we’ll see what other options are out there.” For the most part, Ottawa restaurant owners seem to be on the same page when it comes to helping the environment. Rahim said he envisions a day when people might bring their own cutlery and utensils to his restaurant, eliminating the need for eco-friendly options entirely, and hopes the public will be open-minded to helping and finding solutions. “It isn't any more of a headache than having a hard time finding staff. Our business is full of challenges and there are solutions to all of them,” said Rahim. “As long as I keep a cool head, ask for help and talk to pros, it will be fine.” As for the East India Company, Mehra says he’s also on board, along with many like-minded business owners in his community. “We aren’t opposed to helping the environment, we’re all on this ship together,” said Mehra. “We just want to make sure it's a viable option.”
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