Vancouver is moving forward on its single-use plastics ban with a phased approach that aims to eliminate or drastically reduce the commercial distribution of straws, bags, utensils and containers in the city.
City council approved a motion this week that will either ban or impose a fee on these items as part of the city’s zero-waste 2040 goal.
“We have heard loud and clear that reducing waste from single-use items is important to residents and that bold action is needed,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “The by-laws approved [Wednesday] balance public demand for action and the central needs of our disability and businesses communities: access and time to adjust.”
Businesses will be banned from distributing foam cups and take-out containers beginning Jan. 1. Plastic straws are banned beginning April 22 – Earth Day – with the exception of bendable plastic straws for accessibility reasons, upon request. Single-use utensils will also only be given out by request.
On Jan. 1, 2021, the city will impose a minimum fee of 25 cents on all disposable cups, of all materials. At the same time, plastic bags will be banned, with paper and reusable bags offered for a minimum fee of 15 cents and $1, respectively. Those fees increase to 25 cents and $2 the following January.
A report on stakeholder consultations presented to council identified one group in the culturally diverse city that is particularly dependent on plastic straws: bubble-tea establishments. It found that while a majority of restaurant-licence stakeholders could feasibly operate without plastic straws, bubble-tea businesses have fewer alternatives given their higher take-out volumes and use of wide-width straws to accommodate the drink’s tapioca pearls.
But Jeffrey Jiang, owner of KingSize Bubble Tea & Games, said some bubble-tea straw suppliers have been preparing for the ban since the city announced its intentions last year. KingSize is in the process of using up its plastic-straw stock, but has also been selling reusable glass jars and wide-width metal straws and offering discounts to customers who bring their own cups in.
“We’re definitely prepared,” Mr. Jiang said. “We embrace it, because we would love to be more environmentally friendly.”
Mr. Jiang said higher-quality paper straws cost “a lot” more than plastic straws – he has no plans to pass that cost on to customers – but that they do hold up for bubble tea.
The city is providing a one-year exemption to bubble-tea establishments to find alternative options.
Greg Wilson, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, said he is skeptical of the coming changes, which he feels may reduce the distribution of single-use items but may not reduce the use of single-use plastics overall.
Consumers who no longer get plastic bags from the grocery store might purchase plastic bags to line their garbage bins, he cited as an example. Accessible straws will have to be individually wrapped – in plastic.
“To my mind, unless you change what those [items] are made out of, you are going to have more plastic waste,” Mr. Wilson said.
The stakeholder report noted that “almost all stakeholders were surprised by the inclusion of compostable and biodegradable plastic straws” in the by-law and “expressed the most confusion and frustration” toward this part.
There is currently no provincial legislation on single-use plastics, but the Ministry of Environment recently collected feedback from the public on plastic waste and is expected to share it this winter.