Vancouver will have a new single-use item bylaw

The city will be implementing tougher measures to reduce the disposal of single-use items


Vancouver’s new single-use item ban goes into effect on Jan.1, 2022. (Flickr/samuelnbarnett)

Two years since their adoption in 2019, measures targeting the disposal of single-use items will soon go into effect in the city of Vancouver.

The measures, which include a ban on plastic shopping bags, a minimum charge of $0.15 cents for single-use paper bags, and a minimum fee of $0.25 cents for single-use cups, are planned go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. 

The fees for paper bags will increase to a minimum of $0.25 per bag beginning in 2023. 

These additional measures follow steps already taken to reduce the amount of single-use items in the city’s waste stream, including a ban on styrofoam containers and a “by-request only” ban on plastic straws and utensils in 2020.

The fees, which will primarily impact customers, are meant to incentivize them to bring their “own bag and cup to avoid the fees and reduce single-use item waste,” according to the City of Vancouver website

“No matter what they are made of, single-use items are often not recycled or composted, take up valuable space in our landfill, have a lasting impact on our environment … and require a significant amount of resources to produce,” reads the city’s Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy By-laws

More than 82 million single-use cups and 89 million plastic shopping bags were thrown in the garbage in 2018. The city also revealed that Vancouver taxpayers pay approximately $2.5 million per year for the collection of single-use items from public waste bins and litter from “our parks, streets, and green spaces.”

Erin Pedersen, sustainability coordinator at the Kwantlen Student Association, says this first step is an easy win for the city, but that it is still a small step to solve climate change.  

“We’re not solving climate change by getting rid of plastic bags, we’re not solving waste by getting rid of plastic bags. But, it’s not a bad idea, and the way they’re doing it, with education and making sure we’re charging a fee … is fairly well done.”

Businesses will be allowed to keep the revenue they generate from fees and are encouraged to use them to help cover the cost of complying with the by-laws, and to invest in reusable alternatives. 

Businesses are also mandated to provide reusable bags at a minimum of $1 per bag in 2022, and a minimum of $2 in 2023, which “must be designed and manufactured to be capable of at least 100 uses and primarily be made of fabric,” according to the city’s By-laws to Reduce Single-Use Items

Customers will receive a notification of the fees “as a separate line item” on their receipts and are expected to see the cost of disposable cups wherever they place orders for drinks.

Exceptions will be made for certain establishments, such as hospitals, community care facilities, and charitable food providers. These will be exempt from charging fees on disposable cups and providing plastic bags or charging for paper bags.

“I think that a lot of people complain [about] why they are bothering to do this when there’s so much plastic on their food for example, but at least now that person is thinking about why there is so much plastic on their food … so it starts that thought process,” says Pedersen. 

“We need to have a bit of a mindset shift, and hopefully this will do that for some people,” she says.

Eighty-six per cent of residents agree that a reduction of single-use plastic is important. The city will launch a public awareness campaign on the by-laws over the next several months.

“We know that we can’t recycle our way to zero waste,” states the City. 

These by-laws are part of the ongoing implementation of the City’s Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy adopted by the Council on June 5, 2018 as part of their early priority action in the Zero Waste 2040 Strategic Plan.