City prepares to say goodbye to single-use plastics

·4 min read

Richmond city council is expected to adopt a single-use plastic bylaw at the Sept. 27 council meeting, banning foam cups and containers, plastic straws and plastic checkout bags.

The bylaw goes hand-in-hand with the city’s other waste reduction initiatives like its updated recycling depot, where a number of items can be sustainably recycled.

“I think this decision is one that is timely,” says Coun. Andy Hobbs. “Coming out of COVID is a challenge for a lot of businesses, and everybody recognizes that. I think that’s why the city has been very incremental in how they’re doing it. For some people, change will be a little bit difficult and there will be a cost associated with it, but hopefully it will be a manageable cost and it’s a good direction for our city, our province and our country to move in.”

Hobbs notes that current levels of plastic waste equate to the contents of one garbage truck being dumped into the ocean every minute of every day—mostly single-use.

“As a world, plastic has become completely ubiquitous. We use it every day, it’s very convenient, but it’s also very harmful for the environment,” he says.

Personally, Hobbs says he’s always been a “big anti-litterbug person,” and has been trying to avoid taking plastic utensils and straws from restaurants for several years. He says this bylaw is just one part of a larger push for environmental protection, but still an important step.

“It’s part of that circular economy—not just extracting resources and (throwing them away),” says Hobbs. “The difficult part is on an individual level you do things that contribute to it, then your organization does things that contribute to it, and then a community level, a city level, provincial level, national level, international, continental, worldwide. When you take it to the whole world it gets complicated, but ultimately that’s where we want to be going as a world. We all share the ocean.”

Richmond’s bylaw was approved by the province in March 2020, but delayed due to the pandemic and the impact it has had on business and the community. Enforcement and penalties will come into force a year after adoption.

Coun. Michael Wolfe agrees that this is a good time to implement the bylaw, adding that he has been advocating for enhanced recycling for many years.

“I think the ban is long overdue, and that we (should) include more items as soon as possible,” says Wolfe. “The province has recently added to the list of items that can be regulated: plastic cutlery, stir sticks and sandwich bags. I expect those to be added soon after the first phase, so businesses and consumers can begin the transition now.”

The city is providing resources including a public communications campaign, a toolkit and point-of-sale materials for businesses, virtual business support sessions and collaboration with the chamber to develop additional business tools. But the transition will take time, which is why there is a year-long transitional period built into the bylaw.

“I have heard directly from businesses owners and operators that change is hard and will take time,” says Wolfe. “They have existing stockpiles and contracts that need revisiting. When an enforceable ban is in place, businesses will be sure to follow to protect their profit margins.”

City staff note that based on the 2020 Waste Composition Study by Metro Vancouver, 24,754,078 plastic checkout bags, 4,398,730 foam cups and containers and 6,261,458 plastic straws were disposed of in Richmond.

“As a school teacher I've seen how garbage cans are abused on a daily basis, but what is worst of all is the locker clean out days,” says Wolfe. “I compare this to what happens in every garbage can around the city and all the purging of unwanted items that comes around the spring clean-up times. Outright bans will prevent these materials from being produced from fossil fuels in the first place and they will never have the ability to pollute our land and seas.”

More than 20 B.C. municipalities are currently developing bylaws banning single-use plastics. And as of late July, other municipalities that want to introduce single-use plastics bans can do so without provincial approval.

A B.C. government release estimates that since last year, more than 127 tonnes of plastic have been removed from B.C.'s coastline under the Clean Coast, Clean Waters initiative. In 2019, more than 340,000 tonnes of plastic items and packaging were disposed of in B.C., equal to more than 65 kilograms of plastic waste landfilled per person in one year.

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel

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