City of Vancouver to consider pushing plastic bag ban enforcement to 2022

Dec 4 2020, 10:06 pm

Businesses could be granted leniency in adopting the City of Vancouver’s new policies that ban the use of plastic bags and mandate customer fees on the use of disposable beverage cups.

With businesses struggling to survive from COVID-19’s economic fallout, city staff are recommending that the policies on shopping bags and disposable cups come into effect as scheduled on January 1, 2021, but any enforcement of the policies will not begin until the following year, January 1, 2022.

“The by-laws are geared towards the food and retail sectors, which are experiencing significant economic strain due to the pandemic. Retailers and restaurants in the city are concerned about their ability [to] survive this coming winter with the current second wave of COVID-19. Reduced revenues and increased costs related to complying with COVID-19 health requirements are making it difficult to cover basic operating costs,” reads the city staff report.

“In many cases, operations are reduced to a bare minimum, and all efforts are directed towards keeping the business going while adapting to the pandemic and recent enhanced Provincial restrictions. The extra single-use items by-law requirements, while important, are a secondary priority.”

In addition to the plastic bag ban, there are new fees of at least 15 cents for each paper shopping bag and 25 cents after one year. For reusable shopping bags, fees of at least $1.00 are required initially and $2.00 after one year.

There are exemptions for small paper bags, paper and reusable bags for pharmacy prescriptions, and plastic bags used for large bulky items such as pillows.

With disposable cups, fees of at least 25 cents for each cup are required, but there are exemptions for packages of at least six cups sold for personal use, charitable food services, and hospitals and care facilities.

However, the report states many businesses currently have little to no capacity to determine the compliance requirements or cover the additional costs of sourcing the greener alternative bags and cups, which are more expensive than conventional single-use items.

As well, additional resources are needed to comply with the city’s requirement of setting up point-of-sale systems to charge fees and track the number of bags and disposable cups distributed, which must be reported annually to the city. These problems are compounded by staffing shortages due to the pandemic.

“These costs may push struggling businesses beyond their ability to survive,” continues the report.

Many businesses also have plastic bag supplies that are expected to last longer than usual due to the decline in customers as a result of the pandemic, and disposing of excess plastic bag stock would be “undesirable and wasteful.” Moreover, businesses and their advocacy groups have indicated some businesses cannot afford to buy new paper shopping bags to replace the plastic ones.

There are also supply chain issues as a result of the pandemic, which means there is a lack of paper shopping bags manufactured with 40% recycled content as required by the policy changes. The limited supply has significantly increased the cost of these types of bags, and businesses are concerned about making bulk purchases when their future is precarious.

Additionally, with health safety concerns prevailing, many customers have a preference for plastic bags and take-out cups rather than reusable alternatives. During the first few months of the pandemic, the provincial government enacted a ban on reusable bags as a precaution.

Several of the municipal government’s policy changes on other single-use items have already been implemented, including the ban on styrofoam cups and take-out containers that went into effect on January 1, 2020, and the new regulations limiting single-use utensils and plastic straws starting on April 22, 2020.

These changes are coming with or without the City of Vancouver’s policies. Earlier this fall, the federal government announced plastic straws, cutlery, bags, and other single-use plastic items will be banned in Canada by the end of 2021.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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