Vancouver may give businesses breathing room on plastic straw, Styrofoam ban

The city launched its strategy to reduce the impact of plastic and paper hoping to have ban by June 1

A ban on the unnecessary use of plastic straws and Styrofoam takeout cups and containers in Vancouver may be delayed until next year to give small businesses more time to adapt.

The city says in a news release that staff will present a report to council on Wednesday requesting a time extension and also calling for a provincial policy for dealing with single-use “compostable” items like cutlery that aren’t accepted at composting facilities in British Columbia.

“Our commitment to reducing single-use items is unwavering, we’re just taking the time to do the consultation to get the bylaw details right. We know that thousands of businesses are going to be affected by this change,” senior project lead Monica Kosmak said in an interview.

The city launched its strategy to reduce the impact of plastic and paper shopping bags, disposable cups, takeout containers, plastic straws and single-use utensils last spring with the goal of having bans in place by June 1.

Since then, Kosmak said staff have been consulting stakeholders including food vendors and non-profits and researching plastic and foam alternatives.

The city has heard that the best way it can support businesses through the transition is by giving them more time to find convenient and affordable alternatives, she said.

The city has also learned since the zero-waste strategy was launched that compostable plastics don’t break down easily.

READ MORE: Vancouver to ban plastic straws, cups and more in 2019

“What we’ve found is that compostable plastics are not designed to biodegrade if they’re littered in the natural environment on land or in marine environments,” she said.

Compostable plastics are not accepted at compost facilities in British Columbia under provincial regulations. They typically take longer to break down than the facilities, which are designed to process food waste and yard trimmings, can handle, she said.

“We’re hearing through the consultation that businesses are leaning toward using more compostable substitutes as an alternative but they may not be solving the plastics problem, so we’re looking for the province’s support to try and address this issue,” she said.

The staff report recommends the city put forward resolutions at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention requesting provincial support.

The proposed resolutions would call on the province to ensure “compostable” single-use items are designed to fully biodegrade if littered in the natural environment and the items align with composting infrastructure, collection and management in the province.

They also call for a more comprehensive provincial strategy for reducing the use of disposable items that support federal goals for the reduction of plastic waste.

Kosmak said the city is also taking time to find the appropriate balance between reducing the use of plastic straws and ensuring they’re still an option for people with disabilities and other health concerns. The city has previously said there won’t be an outright ban on straws but a reduction in their use.

The city has learned through the consultation that a good option could see a general ban on plastic straws in place for food vendors that also requires them to keep a small stock of bendable plastic straws for those who need them, Kosmak said.

“Similar to accessible parking spots and ramps and railings, a bendable plastic straw, we’re learning, is a very good tool for accessibility and very much needed,” she said.

“What we’re doing right now is taking time for the consultation. It’s still underway, it’s not complete yet, to make sure we get that detail right.”

The news release says the staff report call for an extension of the start date for a ban on foam cups and take-out containers to Jan. 1 and a ban on unnecessary plastic straws to next April.

It says another report this November will provide more details on the proposed bylaws, including strategies for phasing in the rollout, education, and addressing accessibility concerns.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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