Victoria City Hall has lessons for city hall on Victoria Street as council debates whether to ban businesses from using single-use plastic bags, straws and cutlery.
Coun. Dale Bass’s notice of motion will be debated next Tuesday. If approved, staff will be directed to draft a bylaw by May 28, impacting all business licence holders in the city.
While the issue has been raised by Bass and local environmental advocates, similar bans have been enacted around the world and regulations are taking shape throughout the province.
It has been nine months since Victoria banned plastic bags at the checkout — one step toward a zero-waste strategy — and the city’s bylaw has since become a model for other B.C. communities.
The checkout bag regulation bylaw came into effect in July 2018, though enforcement began six months later, in January. That phase-in period, which allowed businesses to use up their inventory of plastic bags and source new products, was the most important aspect of the new rules, according to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
As outlined in the bylaw, the purpose is to “reduce the creation of waste and associated municipal costs to better steward municipal property, including sewers, streets and parks, and to promote responsible and sustainable business practices that are consistent with the values of the community.”
Businesses are no longer allowed to provide plastic bags for the purpose of transporting items purchased, including everything from groceries to take-out food.
The use of paper bags is permitted, as long as they contain at least 40 per cent recycled paper and stores charge at least 15 cents for them (rising to 25 cents this summer).
Additionally, reusable bags must be sold for at least $1 (rising to $2 this summer).
Exemptions to the plastic bag ban include: bulk items, including produce; loose hardware items, such as nails and bolts; frozen food wrap, wrapped flowers or potted plants; protection of prepared foods or bakery goods; prescription drugs; transport of live fish, protection of linens or bedding or similar items that do not easily fit in a reusable bag; protection of newspapers delivered to doorsteps and protection of clothes after dry cleaning or professional laundering.
Thrifty Foods on Fairfield Road in Victoria stopped using plastic bags at point-of-sale prior to the ban.
Assistant grocery manager Boomer Horton told KTW banning the bag helped the store reduce its environmental footprint. It was also a good business decision, he said, due to desire for such an initiative by customers.
“A lot of people in the area where we work, where our store is, are environmentally friendly people,” Horton said.
Helps said it is too early to determine how much waste has been diverted as a result of the ban, but she noted Victorians previously used 17-million plastic bags annually.
A city report notes plastic bags represented an estimated one to two per cent of the total landfill waste stream, with between 160,000 and 330,000 bags reaching the landfill each year and an unknown number left as litter and not collected.
Similar to Kamloops, Victoria’s curbside recycling program, which is managed by the Capital Regional District through Recycle BC, does not allow plastic bag collection. Instead, residents must drop off plastic bags and overwrap at depots. It is unclear how many plastic bags end up in the trash in Kamloops.
Helps, however, expects the ban will make a significant impact environmentally and economically, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and landfill costs to the city, savings she expects will trickle down to taxpayers.
“It’s been an overall benefit,” she said.
Helps said the ban has gone more smoothly than she imagined, with the initiative fitting the community’s values.
The bylaw, however, has faced hurdles, including two years of consultations with the business community and legal obstacles.
According to a story in the Victoria Times Colonist, the bylaw was challenged in court by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, which argued the city does not have jurisdiction to prohibit businesses from providing plastic bags and that environmental regulations require provincial approval. The bylaw was upheld last summer by the B.C. Supreme Court.
Helps recommends other communities take Victoria’s bylaw and use it word for word.
Salmon Arm is one such community heeding that advice. The Shuswap town is in the midst of a public consultation stage as it seeks to adopt Victoria’s checkout bag regulation bylaw.
One added benefit of being on the same page, Helps said, is consistency for chain stores.
City of Salmon Arm executive assistant Caylee Simmons told KTW feedback has so far been positive, but she noted some retailers have taken issue with the requirement to charge customers for paper bags. They instead wish to incur the costs as a business.
The North Okanagan Regional District is also exploring a ban, while Vancouver is looking at reducing waste, including plastic and paper shopping bags, foam cups, takeout containers, disposable drink cups, disposable straws and utensils.
Vancouver is believed to be the first in Canada to approve a ban on plastic straws, included in a zero-waste strategy to be phased in by 2040.
Bass’s notice of motion includes straws and expands upon banning just the plastic bag.
“I just thought, let’s ask for a little bit more, but leave it wide open for admin to look at the whole thing,” Bass said. “Come up with an idea, come up with a bylaw, come up with an engagement process … and let’s do it. Let’s not just talk about it, let’s do it. Because, otherwise, we’re lagging behind.”
What if businesses aren’t on board?
Victoria’s checkout bag regulation bylaw outlines a series of fees that can be charged to businesses if they do not comply with the checkout bag regulation bylaw.
Corporations can face fines between $100 to $10,000 and individuals can face fines between $50 and $500.
However, Mayor Helps said warnings would be given prior to fines, noting the emphasis is on education over enforcement.
Thus far, the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the proposal to ban single-use plastics in the city.