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British Columbia Vancouver looks to curb waste, taking aim at single-use items

Disposable cups make up 22 per cent of large litter items in Vancouver and are one of the most commonly littered items in the city. Unlike Toronto, single-use cups for hot and cold beverages can be recycled in Vancouver, but as containers rather than paper owing to their inked coatings..

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

The City of Vancouver is taking aim at the scores of disposable cups, takeout containers and shopping bags tossed in the trash each week, filling up half the space in public waste bins and costing millions a year to collect.

Vancouver's efforts to limit such single-use items come alongside similar actions from individual businesses, other cities and even entire countries to reduce their environmental footprints. Montreal approved a bylaw, effective Jan. 1, 2018, that prohibits retailers from offering customers single-use plastic shopping bags. Last year, France passed a law banning all disposable cups, plates and utensils countrywide starting in 2020.

Project spokeswoman Monica Kosmak said these single-use items are a significant issue for Vancouver, which has set a goal to become zero waste by 2040.

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"We've got 2.6 million cups and another two million shopping bags going to garbage every week in Vancouver," Ms. Kosmak said. "About half of the litter cans are full of disposed cups and takeout containers and it costs the city about $2.5-million a year to manage."

The city is inviting public input from now through Dec. 7. Consultation results and a draft single-use item reduction strategy will be presented to council in early 2018.

Both regulatory and non-regulatory options are being considered, Ms. Kosmak said. Regulatory options include an outright ban on businesses distributing single-use items, requiring businesses to ask customers before offering such an item or requiring businesses to provide on-site recycling programs.

Non-regulatory options include education programs, working with businesses to develop voluntary fees on single-use items and exploring cup-exchange or container-exchange programs across businesses. For example: Portland, Ore., home to hundreds of food trucks, has a program called GO Box that has participating vendors serve takeout in reusable containers that customers can later drop off at designated sites.

Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president of Restaurants Canada, a restaurant and food-service industry advocacy group, said many businesses have shown leadership in voluntarily taking steps to become more environmentally friendly in recent years. He noted many members are already paying Recycle BC packaging stewardship fees to recycle packaging on their behalf.

"What is needed is more comprehensive consumer education on what they can do increase single-use packaging recycling," Mr. von Schellwitz said. "What our members do not support are additional packaging fees or bans isolated to one municipality robbing consumers of the convenience they want, from picking up their morning to-go coffee to ordering takeout lunches and dinners."

More than 100 cities in the United States – including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco – have banned restaurants and other food vendors from using polystyrene foam containers, according to a Vancouver report. Many jurisdictions – including Seattle, Los Angeles and Austin, Tex. – have implemented plastic-bag bans, fees on plastic bags or a combination of both.

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Victoria is currently seeking public consultation on a proposed bylaw that would prohibit businesses from selling and distributing plastic bags to customers. Fort McMurray, Alta., has had such a ban in place since 2010.

Disposable cups make up 22 per cent of large litter items in Vancouver and are one of the most commonly littered items in the city. Unlike Toronto, single-use cups for hot and cold beverages can be recycled in Vancouver, but as containers rather than paper owing to their inked coatings.

On Saturday, Vancouver opened a pop-up public-engagement space to solicit input from the public. On display is a large plastic bag overflowing with about 1,300 cups – the amount usually tossed in the trash in five minutes, Ms. Kosmak said.

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