Province isn't 'moving quickly enough', so Surrey plans its own plastic bag ban

The City of Surrey won't back away from banning plastic shopping bags, even though there will likely be much overlap with the B.C. government's own set of regulations that are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

A recent court ruling that struck down Victoria's ban on plastic bags also isn't making Mayor Doug McCallum reconsider the city's plan to introduce new bylaws on January 1, 2021.

"We need to be a leader," McCallum said at Monday night's council meeting. "We need to act quickly."

More than 76 million single-use plastic items from Surrey wind up in landfills each year, about a third of which are plastic bags, according to a city staff report.

Coun. Doug Elford says the city can't wait any longer for the B.C. government to take action.

"I firmly believe that Surrey, by initiating this bylaw, has nudged the province," he said. "There was a feeling, particularly regionally, that the province wasn't moving quickly enough."

Ben Nelms/CBC

Lessons from Victoria

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to reconsider a lower court ruling that prevents Victoria from banning plastic bags.

B.C.'s Environment Minister George Heyman says Victoria's bylaw wasn't sent to his office for review before it was implemented, which left the municipality susceptible to a legal challenge from the plastics industry.

"My advice to municipalities is, if you pass a bylaw, send it in for my review in the interim until we deal with the broader issue of their authority," he said.

Heyman says he'll soon announce a broad range of initiatives to cut down on plastic use and he'll also lay out how the province plans to help municipalities introduce new rules.

"Provincial governments, they do not act quickly on this particular kind of thing, "McCallum said. "They take their time on all projects."

Jesse Johnston/CBC

How will it work?

Plastic bags can take centuries to decompose but Canadian Plastics Industry Association spokesperson Craig Foster says other options are flawed, too — paper bags take too much energy to produce and many reusable bags aren't recyclable.

"Paper is a very expensive commodity from an environmental perspective," he said. "We consume so many resources to make it." 

He says improving Metro Vancouver's recycling system to better handle plastic bags would be more effective than banning them.

Surrey's bylaws are still being written, but certain exemptions will be considered such as bags used for bulk foods or small hardware items like nails.

The city will spend several months on public outreach and education before the ban — which also covers foam cups, plates and Styrofoam containers — is introduced.

City staff say no decisions have been made on whether plastic straws and utensils will also be banned.

Leslie Cook

Big business

Marissa Bergeron and Jean Michel Lajoie — whose food truck business Eat the Dishes serves meals out of edible cups —  say more zero-waste businesses like theirs are popping up across Metro Vancouver.

"If there's an option that's available, we feel like people will be interested in that," he said.

"It's nice to see that cities are now involved in that."

Leslie Cook — whose business Zip Zero Waste sells environmentally friendly products, such as bamboo cutlery and reusable dryer sheets at farmer's markets — says most people she meets are interested in her products as soon as they're educated about them.

"Once they understand what we're talking about, they say wow, I didn't know they had this," she said.

"People didn't have a lot of awareness, so part of what we do is education."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.