British Columbia

B.C. approves civic bylaws banning single-use plastics, provincewide bans on the way

Province considers changes to community charter that would allow municipal bans without government approval.

Province considers changes to community charter that would allow municipal bans without government approval

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman says the province is committed to reducing the amount of plastic waste ending up in oceans and landfills. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The provincial government has approved bans on single-use items for a handful of municipalities and plans to give communities across B.C. more power when it comes to outlawing plastics.

Victoria, Richmond, Tofino, Saanich and Ucluelet have been given the green light to implement bans after each community passed bylaws against single-use plastics.

"[Those municipalities] have shown us local action can lead to real change, and lead to broader influence of public opinion," B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman announce Saturday.

Heyman said the province is also looking at changing its community charter so municipalities can implement bans without the need for provincial approval — a move that would immunize local bylaws from legal challenges by plastic lobby groups.

Victoria's ban on plastic bags, for example, was overturned by B.C. courts after it was challenged by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association for not having provincial approval.

"Every local government knows what's needed and what will work in their community, and they should be able to make decisions within certain consistent criteria that the government will lay out," said Heyman.

Heyman said the changes will allow municipalities to ban single-use items like shopping bags, straws and foam takeout containers.

More than 40 per cent of plastic items in B.C. get used only once. (Francis Gardler/The Journal-Star via Associated Press)

Plastic action plan

The announcement comes after a provincewide consultation for B.C.'s Plastic Action Plan that drew over 35,000 responses from residents, with Heyman saying the majority of them were in favour of single-use item bans to keep items from ending up in the ocean, on shorelines or in landfills.

The B.C. government said it will also develop a legal framework that would allow for sweeping bans of items like straws across the province.

"People and businesses need to know what the rules are so they can adapt to them," said Heyman.

Despite lobbyists taking issue with plastic bans in the past, Heyman said he does not expect further legal challenges.

"It was a narrow legal challenge. We've seen successful bag bans in other jurisdictions, even during the COVID-19 pandemic," he added.

Expanding recycling

The province said it will look to expand its recycling program, with items like plastic cutlery and stir sticks being recyclable by 2023

The ministry is introducing a minimum ten-cent deposit on all beverage containers. Also, for the first time, milk and milk-alternative containers are scheduled to be added to the deposit and refund system.