British Columbia today enacted a regulatory amendment which allows local governments to set bylaws to limit the distribution of shopping bags, plastic straws, and plastic utensils and food-service ware (including those made of biodegradable or compostable plastic, and expanded polystyrene). Some definitions set out in the regulation are different than the requirements made by existing municipal bylaws, which will add to the operational complexity.
The regulation allows local governments to enact bylaws, with a minimum of six months notice, to limit the distribution of these items. There is a requirement similar to the City of Vancouver bylaw to permit customers to access ‘accessible’ (‘bendy’) plastic straws.
The province chose to allow a patchwork of local bylaws rather than creating a province-wide system, or working with the federal government to create a national single-use plastic regime. Either of these options would have produced a regime that was both less costly and operationally-complex for business. In addition, there would have been better environmental outcomes with a nationally or provincially-harmonized regime resulting from a system that was easier for the public to understand.
Finally, the province chose to ignore retailers’ advice in respect of two issues. Due to current supply issues, there is not an adequate domestic supply of paper bags with 40% recycled content: the result will be a need for retailers to procure a supply from overseas markets in a timeframe that will necessitate the use of air freight. This will directly produce poor greenhouse gas outcomes.
The regulation also requires that reusable bags be machine-washable, limiting the sale and use of bags made from materials that are not machine-washable, such as jute bags, preferred by some consumers as reusable bags.
Finally, there is no standardized list of exemptions for local governments to consult, leading to the worry that some municipalities will attempt to enact bylaws that limit the use of items such as small plastic bags used to package vegetables and raw meat items, which serve an important food safety purpose. The regulation is also silent on single-use cups, meaning a local government would need approval from the province to regulate in that space.
RCC will continue to encourage the Federal Government to enact a simple, harmonized national system for reducing the prevalence of single-use plastics.