How Toronto Area Sustainable Neighbourhood Group has helped to change the town's habits with single-use plastic items | photos

THE shift away from single-use plastic products in the Toronto CBD has gone to a level that other Hunter towns should aspire to.

That's the view of Stephen Dewar of the Toronto Area Sustainable Neighbourhood Group (TASNG) which has driven the change.

A prolonged campaign has seen businesses (and households) in the town phase out many single-use plastic items such as bags, cuttlery, cups and straws.

"There are only a handful of cafes and shops in Toronto that are still handing out single-use plastic products, and many of these are phasing out their back stock as they move to a more responsible product," Mr Dewar said.

In some cases, it's taken years for certain businesses to get on board. There are, after all, economic considerations and customer preferences to take into account.

But Mr Dewar said it was not about beating businesses over the head with green rhetoric.

"We've been working with businesses, not against them," he said.

"These changes have been led by the local businesses, and they've seen the writing on the wall."

Over time, TASNG had chipped away at the message, getting involved in litter clean ups, bag swap stations, education programs, a fast-food litter campaign, the installation of public place recycling bins, and participation in the Responsible Cafes Project.

All had helped to change the community's behaviour around plastics and litter, and even businesses that had initially been reluctant to change their ways could see public expectations shifting.

Mr Dewar conceded the extent of that change in Toronto had surprised but delighted TASNG.

"Even local [licensed] clubs, Toronto Hotel and McDonald's in Toronto have recently committed to phasing out or reducing plastic straws," he said.

"There is a genuine pride in our township that plastic litter affecting our bush and lake has been reduced, and pride in the fact that local businesses care about that."

Mr Dewar suspects Toronto's lakeside location had been a key factor in the town making the shift.

There was a time, not too long ago, he said, when litter was a big problem in and around Toronto.

"It was terrible. There was a lot of plastic rubbish in the drains, on the edge of the roads, in the bush and around the edge of the lake," he said.

"But I think our waterfront location really inspires locals to care for the lake and our environment."

Mr Dewar said TASNG was already in discussions with supermarkets about phasing out plastic packaging - particularly in their fruit and vegetable departments.

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