Vancouver to increase fees for shopping bags starting Jan. 1

At least 21 B.C. municipalities have approved bylaws banning single-use plastic bags or will in 2023, according to B.C.’s Ministry of Environment.  (REUTERS - image credit)
At least 21 B.C. municipalities have approved bylaws banning single-use plastic bags or will in 2023, according to B.C.’s Ministry of Environment. (REUTERS - image credit)

A year after implementing a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags, Vancouver will require businesses to charge more for paper and reusable bags.

Starting Jan. 1, customers will be charged a minimum of 25 cents for a paper bag and $2 for a new reusable bag, up from 15 cents and $1, respectively.

Monica Kosmak, Vancouver's senior project manager for single-use items, said when the city implemented its ban on plastic shopping bags in January 2022, the first year would have lower fees to help get people used to the change.

"The fees are really designed to give shoppers that incentive to bring and use their own bag as much as possible," she said. "I do think that the higher fees will help remind shoppers to bring their own reusable bags as much as possible."

In July 2018, Victoria was the first city in B.C. to enact a bylaw banning plastic bags as it aimed to reduce the number of single-use shopping bags piling up at local landfills, It faced a court challenge before it was permanently put in place in April 2021.

City of Victoria/Lisa Helps/Twitter
City of Victoria/Lisa Helps/Twitter

Vancouver modelled its own ban on Victoria's framework and now at least 21 B.C. municipalities, representing more than 40 per cent of the province's population, have approved bylaws or will have them in place in 2023, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Environment.

Kosmak says the changes to Vancouver's fee structure brings the city in line with fees most other cities are charging.

Industry concerns

Greg Wilson, a B.C. director with the Retail Council of Canada, said its members are generally supportive of reducing plastic pollution but the price rise for paper and reusable bags come at time when consumers are experiencing acute financial strain.

"The fees are disproportionately impactful to people who can least afford it and therefore we think it's important to keep the fee as affordable as possible," he said.

Vancouver's bylaws exempts fees for paper bags and reusable bags for charities and non-profits.

It also runs programs to provide bags for free to those who need them.

"We are working to minimize potential impact to residents with low incomes and people experiencing homelessness with these increased fees," said Kosmak.

Wilson also said the bag bylaws are not perfectly harmonized, meaning businesses operating in different jurisdictions have different rules to comply with.

"There's a cost to that and a complication to that," he said. "Particularly for small retail businesses."

Businesses retain the revenue from the sale of paper and reusable bags, but municipalities like Vancouver do not track how much they have collected over the past year.

Wilson says some businesses have used the revenue to donate to local charities while others have used them to offset other costs.

Provincial, federal bans coming

This year the B.C. government is expected to deliver on a promise to introduce a provincewide plastic bag ban, with fees for paper bags and a new reusable bag set at 25 cents and $2, respectively.

Wilson says the legislation is expected sometime in the spring.

In December, a federal ban on the manufacture and import of some single-use plastics, such as shopping bags, came into effect.

A full ban on the sale of the items in Canada is planned for December 2023.