Burnaby wants to avoid ‘patchwork’ single-use plastics ban

Burnaby could put a single-use plastics ban in place by the end of the year, but wants to avoid a "patchwork" approach to the issue between cities.

By Srushti Gangdev | February 23, 2022 |5:00 am

Burnaby could be one of the next BC municipalities to bring in its own ban on single-use plastics.

In a meeting last week, the city’s Environment Committee decided to ask council to allow staff to begin expedited development of a bylaw on the matter, in alignment with a framework already developed by Metro Vancouver to keep regulations aligned across the region.

The bylaw could potentially ban single-use plastic items like plastic check-out bags, stir sticks, and cutlery, along with foam cups and possibly foam take-out food containers. It would also ban plastic straws, other than the accessible ones used in hospitals and care homes and for people with disabilities.

The motion was first brought forward to council at the end of last month by Coun Pietro Calendino and Coun James Wang. And while the motion was carried, councillors were concerned about the complexities of creating a brand new bylaw and of enforcement.

It comes after the province amended a regulation under the Community Charter last summer to allow municipalities to put their own bans in place (previously, they needed approval from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to do so). Around 20 municipalities have already done so, including Vancouver, Tofino, Surrey, Nanaimo, and Richmond.

The federal government is looking at its own ban on plastic bags and straws, likely to be brought in by the end of next year.

Metro Vancouver, meanwhile, has also developed a “regional harmonized approach” to reducing single-use plastics, but it’s flexible enough that it allows municipalities to create their own bylaws as well.

That regional approach bans plastic bags, plastic straws (not required for medical or accessibility needs), plastic stir sticks, and foam service ware containers, and charges $0.25 for paper bags and $2 for reusable bags.

Utensils, regardless of material, are only provided to customers on request, as are non-plastic straw alternatives.

“The overall goal of single-use item reduction bylaw approaches outlined in this document is to reduce single-use items overall. This means not just swapping single-use plastic items out for alternatives such as single-use paper and wood. The goal is to move up the waste hierarchy towards reusable, durable products. Therefore, where possible, approaches avoid swapping of one item for another,” Metro Vancouver says.

Burnaby councillors at the meeting on Jan 31 expressed concerns about requiring businesses to charge fees for single-use items like cups, however. That requirement has drawn harsh criticism in Vancouver and prompted the city to agree to revisit its bylaw just weeks after it came into effect.

Coun Wang called some fees “exorbitant”, and said the only people who benefit from those are store owners.

Coun Joe Keithley noted that for people who are lower-income, for example, an extra 25 cents to pay for a cup of coffee is a very real cost. Keithley said he doesn’t want prices to go up for consumers, and wants a “logical, Burnaby approach” to the issue.

A report from staff to the environment committee last week summarized the city’s three options: the first one says Burnaby could simply wait for provincial and federal regulations to take effect.

“Ultimately, regulation at this level would provide the most effective measure to reduce single-use plastic waste and provide a uniform standard throughout a larger area,” the report reads.

The city could apply for ministerial approval to create its own bylaw, best tailored to the needs of Burnaby residents. That could address some concerns posed by councillors—like removing the $0.25 fee on paper bags and removing the requirement for businesses to track usage of plastics—but, the report notes, that would also contribute to a patchwork of regulations across Metro Vancouver.

The final option—and the one recommended by staff—would be to implement a single-use bylaw that follows the framework already set up by Metro Vancouver.

“This option minimizes the potential patchwork of regulations and provides interim stop-gap regulations while provincial and federal governments complete their consultation work,” the city’s general manager engineering James Lota wrote.

“In addition, this option would provide a minimum regulation standard should higher levels of government put forth more lenient regulations.”

The environment committee agreed that a regional standardized approach would be the most effective—with Coun Colleen Jordan pointing out that many local businesses operate not just in Burnaby, but in other cities around Metro Vancouver.

Jordan said if businesses are told they have to order different supplies in different cities, it will be difficult for them to follow the rules.

“It’s not just about the local level, it’s about the broader level… Some cities are bringing in rules that tell you specifically what kind of recyclable bags you must have, and that they must be cloth and not plastic and they must be this and that,” she said.

“How do you live with all those different layers of red tape and bureaucracy so to speak? We need to make this as simple as possible, so people will actually do it.”

Calendino and Wang’s original motion brought forward on Jan 31 noted that more than a billion single-use plastics are estimated to be thrown out in Metro Vancouver every year, with “a large majority” not properly recycled or ending up in waterways and oceans.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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