British Columbia

Plastic plan (not a ban) hope of New Westminster councillor for all of Metro Vancouver

Lorrie Williams is playing it safe in suggesting people give up plastic bags across the region as the City of Victoria is facing legal backlash to their ban.

Lorrie Williams isn't calling the strategy a ban, but rather a way to reduce unnecessary plastic

Environmentalists worry that too many plastic bags or single-use items end up as litter or in waste streams rather than being recycled. (The Associated Press)

A New Westminster, B.C., councillor hopes her city can draft a bylaw that will keep people from using single-use items like plastic bags and straws across the region.

Just don't call it a ban though.

"It's not a total ban as far as I'm concerned," said Lorrie Williams."There can be exceptions."

On Monday she tabled a motion that would have New Westminster prevent the sale and use of single-use plastic bags and straws by 2019. But it was ultimately sent back to to staff for them to come up with a reduction strategy for things like plastic bags rather than an outright ban.

Williams says the more nuanced approach is not because the plastics industry is currently in B.C. Supreme Court challenging Victoria's ability to enact a plastic bag ban there.

"No I'm certainly not worried about it at all," she said about the industry coming after her city. "I think change is coming."

The plastic industry says that plastic bags often serve multiple purposes and recycling facilities exist to properly dispose of them. (CBC)

Victoria's bylaw — set to come into effect on July 1 — prohibits grocery stores from offering or selling single-use plastic bags to shoppers.

Under Victoria's ban, there will be exceptions. Stores can still offer plastic bags to package bulk items as well as for meat, prescriptions and dry cleaning.

Officials in Victoria say 17 million plastic bags are used each year by residents, and make up more than 15 per cent of all landfill waste.

Environmental groups, like the Surfrider Foundation, have been working with municipalities to reduce plastic waste, which they say too often ends up in oceans and on beaches.

"What we'd like to see is more intervention through the municipalities to interrupt that single-use plastic waste stream," said Carolyn Whittaker who volunteers with the foundation on Vancouver Island.

In January however, the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, challenged Victoria council's right to enact its bylaw in B.C. Supreme Court.

The plastic bag association is a non-profit organization which advocates on behalf of Canadian plastic bag manufacturers and distributors.

Its argument is that the city is infringing on provincial jurisdiction and does not have the rights to enact the ban.

Officials with the City of Victoria say they were granted an extension until the end of February to file a response. They say council remains totally committed to the bylaw.

More recycling

The province says it is not pursuing an outright ban on plastic bags, but wants to provide more recycling options for waste materials. It says currently there are more than 200 depots across the province, including major retailers like London Drugs.

Officials say though that they are monitoring the legal challenge brought against Victoria.

In the meantime, it has resulted in a chill among other municipalities. Saanich District Council pulled back on its own plastic ban strategy this month, pending the outcome of the challenge.

Williams says her ultimate goal with the plan in New Westminster is that it will be copied and adopted by the other 21 municipalities that are part of Metro Vancouver.

"It's about time we did something about [single-use plastics]," she said. "And maybe if all municipalities did that, I'm sure [the association] wouldn't be able to take all of us to court."

Metro Vancouver moves

Meanwhile on Friday, a consultation plan around reducing single-use items from Metro Vancouver's Zero Waste Committee was adopted by board members.

The board had previously approved identifying actions to reduce single-use items from landfills in order to meet its goals of diverting 80 per cent of waste by 2020.

The district will now take the remainder of 2018 to consult with stakeholders and industry on how to come up with solutions.

Potential actions include a disposal ban on single-use items and restricting their sale and use.