Surrey bans plastic checkout bags

The city aims to reduce the approximately 76 million single-use items sent to landfills each year

(Einar Mostad/Flickr)

(Einar Mostad/Flickr)


The City of Surrey’s new bylaw to ban plastic checkout bags and single-use plastic items went into effect for businesses on Oct. 19, making Surrey the first city in Metro Vancouver to ban these items.

The Plastic Bags and Single-Use Items Bylaw includes banning compostable and biodegradable plastic checkout bags and polystyrene foam cups, take-out containers, plates, and bowls. There are some exemptions like facilities licensed as a community care facility under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act or prepared food containers that have been filled and sealed outside of the city.

The city met door-to-door with businesses in Surrey from April to September, says Harry Janda, the solid waste manager for the City of Surrey.

“Our data indicated that 92 per cent of certain businesses were either already transitioned or were in progress,” he says.

In the coming months, the city will continue educating businesses and ensuring compliance with the bylaw through advertising and direct communication with businesses to remind them the bylaw has come into effect, Janda says.

“In January, we will start with more compliance, but it will be gradual and discretionary enforcement. If a business has not complied, we’ll follow up with some more education and then warnings after that. We’ll move onto penalties if need be,” he says.

The intent was to give businesses as much time as possible to ensure they can secure products and new supply, considering the supply chain impacts due to COVID-19, says Janda. Most of them indicated they’ll have transitioned by November this year.

The city conducted composition studies on their waste stream. Based on the composition, they estimated 76 million single-use items are sent to the landfill each year from Surrey. That amount includes 26.6 million plastic checkout bags, 12.5 million disposable cups, 12.4 million takeout containers, and 7.3 million foam takeout cups and containers.

Plastic in a landfill isn’t the problem, says Paul Richard, Kwantlen Polytechnic University environmental protection technology instructor.

“The problem really with plastic bags, plastic straws, and a lot of disposable plastic is that they end up not being disposed of the right way. It’s mostly as litter that they create huge problems,” he says.

One of the first places to ban plastic bags was Bangladesh in an effort to stop them from collecting in waterways and worsening their flooding issues, Richard says. However, that has not entirely solved the problem for the region.

Surrey has done a good job of keeping a lot of creeks and ravines and waterways clean in comparison, says Richard.

“It’s all connected … I don’t expect it will have a major change, both indirect environmental impacts or carbon footprint,” he says. “It’s one of those small things [where] they all add up ultimately.”

Plastic bottles for soaps and shampoos are not included in the ban at this time, and Richard says there should be a place to get those bottles refilled.

“Then it gets people thinking that way and creates an opportunity for an entrepreneur. Those are steps towards the right goal of reducing unnecessary consumption,” he says.

In an emailed statement to The Runner, KPU librarian and Surrey for Future member Allison Richardson said the ban is welcome, but it misses a lot of other types of plastic.

“Solving the plastic problem will take a lot more creativity, hard work, and solutions. It is great to see local elected officials taking initiative to put forward the solutions they can implement, though,” she wrote.

Businesses in Surrey will now charge $0.25 per paper checkout bag or $2.00 per reusable checkout bag, and the entire fee goes to the retailer to help cover the cost of providing paper and reusable bags.

Surrey residents are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags for shopping, recycle or compost the paper bags purchased from businesses, and reuse plastic takeout containers.