City of Vancouver inches towards ban on coffee cups, foam containers

Waste from disposable cups and containers cost Vancouver taxpayers over $2.5 million per year in disposal and cleanup fees, according to the City of Vancouver.

Public consultations over the summer will outline strategies to reduce single-use waste

Millions of disposable cups end up in Vancouver landfills every week, according to the City of Vancouver. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The City of Vancouver is looking to reduce the number of coffee cups, plastic bags, and take-out containers cluttering up the city's garbage dumps — and bans aren't out of the question.

Over 2.6 million coffee cups make their way into Vancouver landfills every week, according to a new report from the city.

"[The cups] take up about 22 per cent of the volume of our on-street garbage system, and they're costing us literally millions of dollars to deal with," said Coun. Andrea Reimer.

Since February 2016, city staff has researched ways to reduce single-use waste — disposable cups, plastic bags, and foam packaging and containers — in order to meet the city's 2040 Zero-Waste goal.

On Tuesday, strategies to reduce the waste will be presented to council. Reimer says bans could eventually be put forward.

"We believe that a ban is legally possible, and we have asked staff to look very closely at that," she said.

Plastic foam containers are widely used for takeout meals across Vancouver. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Styrofoam containters

Foam containers could be an easy target.

"Styrofoam does not weigh a lot... but it takes up a huge amount of room in garbage space," she said. "It's not recyclable, practically speaking ... so that's one where maybe a ban does make sense."

In the case of a ban, restaurants that rely on foam containers would have to replace them with recyclable or compostable alternatives.

Coun. Andrea Reimer introduced a motion alongside Mayor Gregor Robertson to direct staff to look at reducing the amount of disposable plastic waste ending up in landfills. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

But Reimer says the city will first consult with businesses over the summer before making any decisions.

"It's that fine balance between making sure they can meet customers needs ... without unduly impacting their business activities."

Coffee cups and plastic bags

But Reimer says bans on coffee cups could be problematic.

"Practically speaking, you can't carry coffee in your purse," she said, "so we need some way of allowing people to go on the street to buy coffee. [We'll] be working with the retailers to see what makes the most sense for them."

A garbage can overflows at the corner of Robson and Hornby streets. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

And while the city hopes to reduce the number of plastic bags entering the garbage stream, Reimer says over 60 per cent of the two million plastic bags handed out in Vancouver each week end up getting reused as garbage bags.

"If you ban those plastic bags, then people have to go out and buy more plastic bags in order to do that."

Consultations on reducing the single-use items will run through the summer, and a public survey will be made available in September.