British Columbia | Sustainability

Delayed until January 1, 2022: City of Vancouver introduces complex unharmonized single-use by-law

November 28, 2019

Late Wednesday (November 20) afternoon, the City of Vancouver released single-use item by-laws that will be considered by council on November 26, 2019.  The by-laws are, as outlined to the RCC Environment Committee yesterday, a combination of the worst aspects of by-laws introduced by other local governments.

RCC, and our members, in good faith, participated in a consultation process (for more than two years) with the City of Vancouver staff, and our recommendations were wholly ignored in the final by-laws.  The by-laws are not harmonized with other jurisdictions and are more complex than any other jurisdiction to-date: this is despite words in the staff report that emphasize the importance of harmonization and simplicity to the business community.  RCC will advocate against key aspects of the by-law at Vancouver City Council despite our expectation that our comments will again be ignored.

Summary of Key Elements

Shopping bags

Single-use plastic shopping bags will be banned as of January 1, 2021.  On the same date, a 15 cent fee for paper bags and a $1.00 fee for reusable bags will take effect.  Those fees rise to 25 cents for paper bags and $2.00 for reusable bags on January 1, 2022.

There are exemptions for bags used to:

  1. contain loose bulk items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains or candy,
  2. contain loose bulk small hardware items such as nuts and bolts,
  3. protect bakery goods that are not pre-packaged prior to the point-of-sale,
  4. contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, poultry or fish, whether pre-packaged prior to the point of sale or not,
  5. wrap flowers or potted plants,
  6. transport live fish,
  7. protect newspapers or other printed material intended to be left at the customer’s residence or place of business, or
  8. protect clothes after professional laundering or dry cleaning.

There is also an exemption for packages of at least 10 bags sold for use at the customer’s home or business, including but not limited to garbage bags, bin liners, and pet waste bags.

To add to the complexity of the by-law, there are additional requirements that:

  1. Paper bags contain at least 40% recycled paper content and display the words “recyclable” and “made of 40% recycled content” or other applicable amount on the outside of the bag.
  2. Plastic shopping bag is defined as “a shopping bag made wholly or partially from either plastic derived from fossil fuels or plastic derived from biomass, including but not limited to corn, sugar cane or other plants, but not does include a reusable bag (as defined).
  3. Reusable shopping bags are defined as “a shopping bag designed and manufactured to be capable of at least 100 uses, and primarily made of fabric.”
  4. Small paper bags are defined as “any bag made out of paper that is less than 15 centimetres by 20 centimetres when flat.”
  5. Bag fees must be visible as a separate line item on any receipt provided to a customer.
  6. Every license holder must report, at the request of the City License Inspector, the number of paper shopping bags and reusable bags it distributed during the previous 12 months.
  7. The provisions do not apply to small paper bags or shopping bags to transport linens, bedding, or other similar large items that cannot easily fit in a paper bag or reusable bag.
  8. The fees for paper and reusable bags do not apply to paper or reusable shopping bags:
    1. used to transport prescription drugs received from a pharmacy,
    2. used in the course of providing charitable food services, or
    3. that have already been used by a customer and returned to a license holder for the purpose of being reused by other customers.


As of April 22, 2020 (changed from January 1, 2021), no license holder will be permitted to provide a single-use utensil to a customer unless:

  1. the food vendor or its employees first ask a customer if they want a single-use utensil and the customer responds that they do, including responses by telephone or using Internet-based ordering platforms,
  2. a customer requests a single-use utensil, including requests made by telephone or using Internet-based ordering platforms, or
  3. a customer obtains a single-use utensil from a self-serve station.

The provision does not apply to packages of at least 20 single-use utensils sold for personal use.

“Self-serve station” is defined as “an area on the licensed premises where customers may obtain utensils for themselves.”

“Single-use utensils” are defined to include “a spoon, fork, knife or chopstick made from any materials and ordinarily or customarily used for its intended purpose only once before being disposed of as solid waste.”

Beverage cups

As of January 1, 2021, license holders will be required to charge at least 25 cents for every single-use beverage cup provided to a customer.  Additionally:

  1. every food vendor must include the fee as a visible separate line on any receipt provided to a customer,
  2. every food vendor must display information about how much it charges for single-use beverage cups on media such as menus, internet-based ordering platforms, and/or menu boards, and
  3. when seeking a license renewal, every food vendor must report to the Chief License Inspector the number of beverage cups it distributed in the past 12 months.

The by-law contains definitions of:

  1. “Reusable beverage cup means a beverage cup that is made of durable materials and is ordinarily or customarily washed, sanitized and used repeatedly.”
  2. “Reusable cup share program means a program that meets the following requirements:
    1. A food vendor and its employees provide customers the choice to be served a beverage in a reusable beverage cup,
    2. The customer is allowed to remove the reusable beverage cup from the premises or location where the food vendor operates, and
    3. The customer may return the reusable beverage cup to the food vendor or its employees or a designated drop-off location, at a later time.”
  3. “Single-use beverage cup means a cup made from any materials, used to serve a beverage and ordinarily or customarily used for its intended purpose only once before being disposed as solid waste.”

The by-law does not apply to packages of more than 6 single-use beverage cups sold for personal use, or to single-use beverage cups used in the course of providing charitable food services.

Plastic straws

As of April 22, 2020, food vendors will be prohibited from distributing single-use plastic straws to a customer.   Food vendors must supply an accessible plastic straw when “the food vendor or its employees ask a customer if they need an accessible straw and the customer responds that they do, or a customer requests an accessible straw.”

Packages of at least 20 single-use plastic straws sold for personal use are exempted.

The by-law provides the following definitions:

  1. “’Accessible Straw’ means a single-use beverage straw made wholly from plastic derived from fossil fuels, such as polypropylene, that has a corrugated section that allows the straw to bend and maintain its position at various angles and is individually wrapped in paper.”;
  2. “’Bubble Tea Drink’ means a prepared food consisting of a beverage, including but not limited to tea, fruit juice, blended fruit, coffee or milk, and edible pieces, typically less than 12 mm in diameter or width, including but not limited to tapioca, jelly or a liquid that has undergone the culinary process of spherification.”;
  3. “’Single-Use Plastic Beverage Straw’ means a tube made wholly or partially from either plastic derived from fossil fuels or plastic derived from biomass, including but not limited to corn, sugarcane or other plants, used to transfer a beverage from a container to the mouth of the person drinking the beverage and ordinarily or customarily used for its intended purpose only once before being disposed as solid waste.”

The by-law does not “apply to the distribution of a single-use plastic beverage straw with a bubble tea drink if the food vendor has declared to the Chief License Inspector:

  1. That the food vendor serves bubble tea drinks, and
  2. The actions the food vendor is taking to comply with” the ban “no later than one year after this by-law comes into force and effect.”

Detailed information on the City’s proposals can be found here.

Next Steps:

  1. RCC will advocate for harmonization, operational simplicity and against the aspects of this by-law which have significantly negative retail business and consumer impacts.
  2. RCC will continue to work with our partner industry associations to ensure common responses where possible.

Update: City of Vancouver Delays Single – Use Bag and Cup Bylaws

On November 9, 2020, Vancouver City Council passed a motion to delay the effective date (implementation) of their single-use bag and single-use cup bylaws to January 1, 2022.  The result in the City of Vancouver is that the bag and cup fees, reporting, requirements for paper reusable bags, and ban on plastic bags, are all delayed one year until January 1, 2022.  RCC will update our single-use page to reflect the changes when the amended bylaws are published.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Greg Wilson, Director, Government Relations (British Columbia) at or 604-736-0368.

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