New regulations reducing the use of plastic are coming into effect in B.C. just before Christmas, the busiest shopping season of the year.
But Environment Minister George Heyman believes businesses (and by extension the public) will have enough time to prepare.
On Friday (July 14), Heyman announced new regulations addressing shopping bags, disposable food service accessories, food service packaging made of hard-to-recycle plastics, and plastics that break down into microplastics.
The regulations will come into effect Dec. 20, giving businesses about six months to use up existing stock, Heyman said. Sales of plastic checkout bags, drinking straws, cutlery, stir sticks, ring carriers and food-service ware made from plastics will be banned on Dec. 20, according to a government release.
“(Some) items will be banned,” he said. “Some will be by request only and in some cases there’ll be a fee for replacement items to ensure that they are reused.
“For instance, paper bags or cloth bags. There will be various standards put in place for paper bags that they have post-consumer recycled content and for cloth bags that they can be washed and reused at least 100 times.”
Other provisions ensure that some items will remain available in health care settings or to accommodate people with different abilities, he added.
Heyman said government developed the regulation after extensive consultation with businesses both large and small.
“In some cases, we have made an adjustment to the transition period on a couple of items to reflect the fact that there may not be a suitable alternative available yet,” he said. “But we have consulted and people believe that this is not only doable, but it’s important to do it.”
In some ways, the regulation completes a process that has been well underway across the most populated parts of the province under provincial guidance and encouragement.
Heyman pointed out that 21 municipalities, including multiple cities in Metro Vancouver (City of Vancouver, the City of Surrey), Greater Victoria (City of Victoria, Saanich, Sidney), Fraser Valley (Chilliwack) and the Interior have already passed municipal bans on single use items after the province had created the necessary legislation.
Surveys also suggest broad public support for measures like banning single-use plastic bags. Retailers and restaurants have also started to adjust business practices in response to public demands but also for bottom-line reasons.
“Once this system is in place, there will be significant cost savings to small businesses and restaurants,” Heyman said, adding that previous savings had been been passed on to consumers.
The minister also does not foresee any legal challenges, pointing to the aforementioned municipalities, some of which have already weathered legal challenges to their respective bylaws.
But bans are not out of the woods yet. The Responsible Plastic Use Coalition, a coalition of plastic and chemical companies, has launched a suit against the federal ban that came partially into effect last December. The coalition had also earlier challenged the federal government’s designation of plastic manufactured items as a toxic substance.
Environmental experts consider the proliferation of plastic as one of the greatest threats to global eco-systems, especially aquatic eco-systems. Carpets made of large plastic pieces routinely float up and up down the world’s oceans, trapping animals large and small in transit, before washing up on beaches.
Scientists have found pieces of plastic inside of marine animals, where they cause death by choking up digestive systems. Worse, microscopic pieces of plastic have appeared in humans after having consumed fish and other marine life.
“The scale of plastic pollution in our environment is massive,” Heyman said.
Measures announced Friday will help address this problem as part of a broader recycling and reusing strategy, he added.
“Focusing on hard-to-recycle single-use and plastic items will help move B.C. to a circular economy where waste and pollution are eliminated, products and materials are kept in the economy through re-use, and natural systems are regenerated,” he said.