Victoria disappointed Supreme Court refuses to hear plastic bag bylaw appeal

VICTORIA — The mayor of Victoria says she is disappointed Canada's highest court won't reconsider a lower-court ruling that stopped her city from regulating single-use plastic bags.

However, Lisa Helps said there are other ways to eliminate the items.

The Supreme Court Of Canada didn't issue reasons for refusing to review a British Columbia Court of Appeal decision that overturned Victoria's plastic bag ban on the grounds that the city lacked provincial approval.

The Canadian Plastic Bag Association, which challenged the original bylaw, said it welcomes the decision which requires B.C. municipalities to "follow the law and respect the limits placed on their authority when addressing environmental issues."

When the bylaw was struck down last July, Helps vowed to move forward, saying the ruling didn't "undermine the soundness" of the regulation but only dealt with the process for its adoption.

Helps said in a statement Thursday that the city will look for every opportunity to reduce plastic waste.

She said her city's original checkout bag bylaw kept more than 17 million plastic bags out of the landfill over the year it was in place and the "community continues to avoid plastic bags despite these setbacks."

Victoria has launched a zero-waste strategy which Helps said is designed to cut the 25,000 single-use items discarded in the city every day.

"We're confident we will see bold leadership from the provincial government in its Plastics Action Plan," Helps said, referring to initiatives by the B.C. and federal governments to develop shared waste reduction standards.

Environment Minister George Heyman said in a statement that he would be pleased to review an application from Victoria and any other local government regarding bylaws to reduce plastic waste.

Heyman said the provincial government will announce actions in the coming weeks after receiving 35,000 responses through public engagement on plastics, making it one of the biggest engagements since the NDP was elected in 2017.

Those actions could include bans on several kinds of single-use packaging, expanding producer responsibility for plastic recycling, stepping up the bottle deposit system and other policy or regulatory changes.

"British Columbians throughout the province have been clear. They want action on single-use plastic pollution such as plastic bags," he said.

The actions will align with the efforts of local and regional governments and will require all levels of government to work together, he said.

The Plastic Bag Association said in its statement that bylaws like the one implemented by Victoria can have unintended consequences.

"Plastic bags typically outperform paper bags and, from an environmental perspective, are in many ways the best packaging option, given that they can be recycled, unlike reusable bags, and are less carbon intensive and emit less GHGs than paper bags."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2020 

The Canadian Press