Plastic straws and white foam containers will soon be a thing of the past in Vancouver.
Vancouver city Council voted in May, 2018 to ban plastic straws and foam cups and takeout containers effective June 1, 2019 — six months earlier than initially proposed — making it the first municipality in Canada to ban the single-use disposable items.
“It’s a big boost towards Zero Waste 2040,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told council. “This is a really important step forward to demonstrate how serious we are in phasing out plastics and making sure we are working aggressively towards zero waste.”
Council also voted to provide more funding for outreach and education to support businesses and organization affected by the ban.
It did not impose a ban on plastic bags or disposable coffee cups, opting instead to work with businesses to reduce their use, whether by charging customers a fee, providing incentives not to use them, or ditching the items altogether.
Some speakers warned council the ban might have unintended consequences for people reliant on plastic bags and straws, including those with disabilities and low-income people.
A speaker from the Potluck Cafe Society, which provides healthy meals for people in the Downtown Eastside, expressed concern over the effect the new measures would have on their operating costs.
While the society endorses the strategy and the city’s zero waste goals, Downtown Eastside food providers will need more time to implement the changes, said Dounia Saeme. She asked the city to consider initiatives such as a subsidy program or capital grants to support the groups through the transition.
Joe Hruska, of the Canadian Plastic Industry Association, told council before the vote that the ban will increase landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions. He called on council to defer the ban and consult with industry to find other solutions.
Some councillors raised concerns that the ban might affect businesses’ and consumers’ bottom lines and worsen affordability.
Robertson said the city is already spending $2.5 million a year to collect single-use waste items from public trash bins and litter in public spaces.
“I think zero waste is directly tied to more affordability,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thing to conflate taking action to be clean and green to creating more costs.”
Representatives of bubble tea shops asked council to delay the plastic straw ban because no viable alternatives for bubble tea straws are currently available on the market.
“Our industry depends on straws,” said Katie Fung, a manager at Pearl Fever Tea House. “This ban will be detrimental to many businesses in our city.”
Every week, 2.6 million disposable coffee cups are thrown into street garbage bins in Vancouver while 58 million straws are thrown out every day in Canada.
Victoria has implemented a plastic bag ban starting July 1, but that is being challenged in court by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association.
In North Vancouver, Deep Cove merchants have banded together to stop using plastic straws. Organizers of the movement plan to provide paper straws to help ease the transition for some businesses.
by Cheryl Chan
May 21, 2018