British Columbia

Victoria moved to ban plastic bags almost 2 years ago. Why have so few B.C. cities followed suit?

Almost two years since the City of Victoria passed a ban on single-use plastic bags, only a handful of other municipalities in B.C. have followed suit, leading some environmentalists to blame the slow progress on a lack of provincial rules.

Lack of provincewide policy puts financial burden on municipalities, not-for-profit says

Surfrider Foundation Canada says a provincial plan to reduce single-use plastics would mean municipal resources could be used more efficiently. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Almost two years since the City of Victoria passed a ban on single-use plastic bags, only a handful of other municipalities in B.C. have followed suit, leading some environmentalists to blame the slow progress on a lack of provincial rules.

Right now, Victoria has been joined only by a few communities on Vancouver Island and a couple in the southern Interior in enabling a ban.

The ban in Victoria isn't even certain, after the B.C. Court of Appeal quashed a lower court decision that allowed its enactment — though the city says most businesses are operating as if the bylaw was in place.

Meanwhile, several other municipalities have bag-ban bylaws before their councils.

But all that's created is a "patchwork of policies" across B.C., says Lilly Woodbury, regional coordinator for Surfrider Foundation Canada, a not-for-profit organization that works with municipalities to develop plastic reduction bylaws.

"We're left with this patchwork of policies when we could just have one comprehensive and unified policy across the province," Woodbury said. 

She says municipalities are being forced to create bylaws independently, wasting money on reports and studies that could be done provincewide.

"It would free up our time as a non-profit to focus on bigger issues because [environmental concerns go] way beyond these bans," said Woodbury.

More than 40 per cent of plastic is only used once in B.C. which means it ends up as waste, littering the province and threatening a wide variety of species, according to the government.

It's not enough to simply ban plastic bags, Woodbury says. Provincial legislation should include a comprehensive ban on other single-use plastic like straws, cutlery and polystyrene containers in line with the recent ban by the European Union.

B.C.'s CleanBC Plastics Action Plan lays out suggestions to curb plastic waste, including potential bans. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

B.C.'s working on it

The provincial government says there is a clear desire to reduce single-use plastics in B.C. and, while there is no current legislation, it says it's actively working on recommendations to tackle plastic pollution.

This follows a period of consultation on its proposed CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, which lays out suggestions to curb plastic waste, including potential bans.

"Significantly reducing single-use plastics in our environment is a priority for British Columbians and our government," said the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy in a statement.

"We are committed to tackling plastic pollution."

But Woodbury says it needs to happen faster.

"It's imperative for us to understand that plastic pollution and climate change are two different faces of the same problem," she said.

Vancouver's working on it, too

The majority of plastic bag bans exist in smaller communities on Vancouver Island, while many of B.C.'s largest cities lack any legislation. 

According to the Retail Council of Canada, the following B.C. municipalities have enacted a ban on plastic bags:

  • Courtenay
  • Cumberland
  • Qualicum Beach
  • Rossland
  • Salmon Arm
  • Sooke
  • Tofino
  • Ucluelet

The most noticeable absentee is the City of Vancouver, which has pledged to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.

But that could soon change as city staff prepare to report to council at the end of the month with recommendations around a bylaw to regulate plastic bags.

Monica Kosmak, senior project manager with the city, says the report will also include details for bylaws restricting plastic straws, disposable cups and disposable utensils.

"I think you'll see Vancouver moving to address these items," said Kosmak. "And there's a lot of support from the public for the city to address them."

The City of Victoria, meanwhile, is seeking leave from the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal July's B.C. Court of Appeal ruling against a plastic bag ban.

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