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How two tiny Canadian communities ditched single-use plastics

CTM-Inbound-Blog-June2019-SingleUsePlastic-FTwo tiny B.C. island communities are well ahead of the curve when it comes to the federal government’s move to ban single-use plastics.

The Liberal government said earlier this month that plastic grocery store bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and takeout food containers made from hard-to-recycle plastics will be phased out by the end of 2021.

The move was a step towards the federal government’s goal to have zero plastic waste by 2030.

The six items were targeted first because they’re readily found in the environment and often not recycled, and available alternatives exist, said federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

But most of the items on Ottawa’s plastic hit list are already pretty much non-existent on Quadra and Cortes islands, two small coastal communities wedged between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.

Businesses on Quadra abandoned single-use plastic bags close to a decade ago, and most use biodegradable or recyclable takeout products, said Susan Westren of Sierra Quadra, an environmental group on the island.

“We’ve left everyone in the dust, and we did it a long time ago,” said Westren, adding nobody mandated the move to reduce plastic waste on Quadra.

“All it took was a small number of people to organize this, but in bigger centres, I guess that’s not possible.”

Westren and Sierra Quadra members Judy Leicester and Robyn Budd approached all the businesses on the island and held a community forum to get input on the proposed change.

Though there was a bit of initial reluctance from grocery stores, the businesses agreed to carry the reusable bags the group had designed.

In addition to bringing in the recyclable bags, Tru Value Foods stores made the switch to paper grocery bags as well.

Both consumers and businesses on the island adapted to the change readily, said Westren.

“I think it’s because there’s terrific social and environmental consciousness on this island, and because we were so persuasive,” she said.

Quadra restaurants were also prepared when there was a big shift to takeout food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I must say that the island has been pretty amazing in terms of using biodegradable takeout containers, coffee cups and those sort of things. Except the lids, but they can be recycled,” Westren said.

“I think that is also unusual because they’ve been doing that for quite a long time as well, and thank goodness, now that COVID-19 is with us, there’s been so much more (container) use.”

Dave Tolley, co-owner of Cafe Aroma on Quadra, agreed the pandemic has driven up demand for single-use containers dramatically.

But Tolley figures he’s already in compliance with the future ban because he has biodegradable takeout products in place.

And he’s also constantly on the hunt for more environmentally friendly products, despite the added cost.

“It’s a personal choice for us,” he said, adding that as a consumer himself, he considers packaging when buying products.

“I just don’t want something that’s not going to break down,” Tolley said.

“And as far as the cost, we’re always trying to find the best product, and then research how to make it more financially viable.”

Even selecting items for the cafe’s menu takes into account the takeout packaging they’d need, he said.

Tolley agrees with the federal plastics ban which he believes will encourage manufacturing changes and better recycling systems, and adds it’s not an onerous change for most restaurants.

“I’m surprised (the list) was as limited as it was,” Tolley said.

The long delay in implementing the plastic ban is probably because the government understands the huge financial hit the restaurant industry has experienced with the pandemic, Tolley added.

“I mean, if your business has been hammered hard enough, and you’re just trying to save costs anywhere you can, keeping the doors open might be temporarily more important than paying extra for packaging,” he said.

Eric Hargrave, general manager of Cortes Natural Food Co-op, said one of the co-op’s original goals was to reduce packaging. The business constantly looks for ways to reduce waste _ plastic or otherwise _ in the store, bakery and cafe, he said.

The co-op doesn’t have single-use grocery bags, and other stores on the island don’t use them either, Hargrave said.

While the co-op makes great effort to find environmentally friendly packaging to replace plastic, truly green products – from the start of the production cycle to the end of use – are still scarce, he added.

The co-op relies on paper bags, cardboard boxes, glass jars, waxed paper and recyclable cutlery for most of its food items, but all of them have certain limitations, he added.

For example, the store did a trial run of containers made from steamed leaves, but the product didn’t come with a lid, Hargrave said.

The co-op also uses cups and takeout containers that are considered compostable, but that’s tricky on an island without an industrial facility, he said.

“They don’t really work here because most people use their home composts, and those can’t go in there,” he said.

Of the limited ecological packaging choices available, fewer still are affordable and accessible to businesses on a remote island, he added.

With COVID-19 still driving the increased waste tied to the takeaway market, the co-op is considering shifting to cutlery made from birch trees, said Hargrave.

But there’s always the problem of added cost, he noted.

“We have talked about charging for packaging, if for no other reason to make people aware that there actually is a cost to it and discourage its use,” he said.

Tolley said while he has been proactive about trying to curb single-use plastics, most consumers want businesses to take those steps.

And customers are also probably willing to pay more if they know the packaging is environmentally friendly, he said.

“If we didn’t do it, I’m sure people on Quadra would call us out on it for sure,” Tolley said.

Plus, the last thing a restaurant or store on the island wants to see is their plastic waste or cups littering the side of the roads or highways, he said.

“That’s not the kind of marketing that any business needs.”

 


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B.C.’s new vaping rules a blow to c-stores

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The British Columbia government is moving ahead with regulations designed to making vaping less appealing for young people by restricting the availability of vaping products in convenience stores.

During a news conference last week, the province’s Health Minister Adrian Dix said the sale of flavoured nicotine vapour products will be restricted to adult-only shops: “We have the power to restrict flavours. Only tobacco flavours will be allowed.”

The proposed changes are expected to be fully in place by the end of summer and represent another blow to the convenience industry, which is grappling with similar restrictions in other provinces, including Ontario.

The Government of British Columbia’s regulations restricting the availability of vaping products in convenience stores, while allowing specialty vape shops and online retailers to continue to operate unchecked, will not address youth vaping, counters the Convenience Industry Council of Canada.

“All the available evidence shows that convenience stores outperform specialty retail shops in the responsible retailing of age-restricted products. Recent reports released by the Government of Canada show that 87% of convenience stores passed their mystery shopping tests, compared to the 20% of vape shops which passed,” says CICC president and CEO Anne Kothawala, noting that eight out of 10 vape shops failed mystery-shopping tests.

In addition, CICC points out that the largest study of its kind conducted in Canada, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) “2019 Drug use Among Ontario Students Report” found that convenience stores were ‘the least common source of vaping products for youth: Borrowing from a friend topped the list (53.7%), buying from a friend or someone else (11.2%), and purchasing from a specialty vape store (9.7%) were the top three sources, with convenience stores making up less than 1%. “This report confirms what we have been saying for months; convenience stores are not the source of vaping products for youth,” says Kothawala.

However, the backlash continues, with Health Canada earlier this month moving ahead with new rules banning the promotion of vaping products in places young people can access.

Calling nicotine a “public health hazard,” Dix did acknowledge the role vaping could play in helping adult smokers reduce risk. “Vaping is of course, for some people, harm reduction. And if you are a lifetime smoker, it can have that impact, it can reduce the harm from smoking…. But if you are a young person, if you are under 19, it is not harm reduction, it is just harm.”

A Canadian student tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey found youth vaping among students in grades 10-12 increased in B.C. from 11% in the 2014-15 school year to 39% last year. Across the country, the increase was from 9% to 29%.

Other changes introduced by the B.C. government include restricting the amount of nicotine in the pods and ensuring c-stores will only be allowed to sell vapour products in plain packaging with health warnings.

In a statement, the Canadian Cancer Society welcomed the announcement. “The high levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes are an important factor contributing to skyrocketing rates of youth vaping in Canada. It is hoped that the action by the B.C. government will prompt the federal government to establish the same maximum nicotine level for all of Canada.”

The CICC maintains the proposal to reduce nicotine concentrations could force adult customers of vaping products back to cigarettes.

“Our industry sales data shows that over 90% of adult smokers who switched from tobacco to a reduced risk vaping product chose a flavoured option with a nicotine concentration that matches that of a cigarette,” says Kothawala. “While we fully support any efforts to combat the increase in youth vaping, restricting the ability of convenience stores to offer the products our adult customers need to successfully quit smoking is not only misguided, it is dangerous public policy.”

Meanwhile, most of the changes, including the nicotine and flavouring regulations, will be immediately enforced in British Columbia, while remainder of the regulations will be implemented starting Sept. 15.

“There is still time for the B.C. government to implement policies that will actually work, but until the government addresses the true sources of youth access to vaping products from online retailers and vape shops that continually violate federal laws, they will not address the youth vaping issue and will fail to meet their harm reduction strategy,” says Kothawala.

  • with files from The Canadian Press

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British Columbia expands gas-price tracking

shutterstock_692687404Fuel prices will be tracked in four additional communities in B.C. under legislation aimed at providing the public with more information on the price at the pumps.

The provincial government says prices in Powell River, Revelstoke, Port Alberni and Squamish will be published by the B.C. Utilities Commission on a website that collects the data.

Bruce Ralston, the minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, says the decision to add the cities was based on public feedback.

The government passed legislation last November aimed at providing more transparency in the way gas prices are set.

The independent utilities commission was asked to examine fuel prices in the province as gasoline costs in Metro Vancouver were consistently the highest in Canada, reaching $1.70 per litre and above.

The commission said it couldn’t explain why B.C. drivers were paying as much as 13 cents more per litre for gas.

Ralston said consumers in B.C. pay an extra $490 million a year for gasoline, based on the report’s findings.

“People deserve transparency and fairness when it comes to gasoline prices,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“We will remain diligent as we watch the market and keep the industry accountable.”


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Minimum wage goes up in B.C. as businesses face COVID-19 challenges

British Columbia’s lowest paid workers got a pay increase Monday with a scheduled minimum wage hike at a crucial time for small businesses as they look for ways to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase is part of the government’s pledge to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage by next year after a decade of no increases from 2001 to 2011.

The minimum wage jumped by 75 cents to $14.60 an hour on June 1.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said the government understands the pressures facing employers during the pandemic, but workers are also struggling.

“We’re all going through some very challenging times, no doubt about it,” he said in a recent interview.

Bains said the B.C. government’s $5 billion pandemic plan includes tax breaks and tax deferrals for businesses, and a $1.5 billion economic recovery fund. He said the federal government has also introduced wage subsidies for employers.

“Now, as much as ever, I think B.C.’s lowest paid workers also need support,” said Bains. “It’s not fair to ask them to delay their wage increase.”

But Prof. Andrey Pavlov at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie school of business said the government should forgo the minimum wage increase and allow market forces to determine rates of pay.

The pressures of the pandemic should be viewed as an opportunity to explore economic initiatives that don’t involve regulated minimum wages and government subsidies, he said.

“I’ve never been a fan of minimum wage increases because I believe wages should grow on their own through economic growth,” said Pavlov.

The minimum wage increase during a period when many businesses are struggling to survive the pandemic could be the final blow that results in them closing, putting people out of work, he said.

“Now, most businesses are thinking of shutting down or moving or restructuring in very substantial ways and you add that on top, it could be just the catalyst that pushes many businesses over the edge,” Pavlov said.

Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C., said the province is an expensive place to live and life has become more difficult for low-wage workers because many have been laid off.

She said most people earning the minimum wage were not able to work from home.

“Many lost their jobs during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, and now we’re starting to reopen a number of them will be called back and I think it’s important that they actually earn decent wages,” Ivanova said. “We’ve known for a long time that the minimum wage was too low in B.C.”

Statistics Canada reported B.C.’s unemployment rate in April increased to 11.5 per cent, with almost 400,000 lost jobs since March.

B.C. has eased some restrictions, allowing restaurants, hair salons and dentist offices to reopen but with physical distancing rules in place, businesses have taken cautious steps to restart.

Labour Ministry data shows 60 per cent of people earning the minimum wage in B.C. are female and 93 per cent of minimum wage jobs are in the service sectors, including cleaning services, grocery stores and restaurants, Bains said.

Quebec increased its minimum wage on May 1. Minimum wages in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Yukon increased on April 1.


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B.C. to start issuing $2,000 tickets for price gouging

B.C. police and enforcement officers will start issuing $2,000 tickets for price gouging and reselling essential supplies during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

“In the past month, many of us have heard cases of price gouging or someone selling essential supplies illegally. I can assure you we will not allow these practices (to) continue,”“ said Mike Farnworth, the province”s minister of public safety and solicitor general, during a Sunday press conference.

The province has heard from, for example, an elderly, immunocompromised consumer who paid 10 times what Farnworth called “the right price”” for N95 masks, as well as business owners who have had to pay “grossly inflated prices”” for personal protective equipment for their workforce.

Consumer Protection BC has already received more than 800 complaints about these types of practices, he said, and all of them will be investigated.

“That”s why, effective immediately, the province is enabling police to issue $2,000 violation tickets for these shameful practices.””

The measures are enacted under the provincial state of emergency, which was announced in mid-March, through powers under the Emergency Program Act.

Anyone who witnesses such activity should contact their local bylaw enforcement officer, the non-emergency line of their local police force or Consumer Protection BC, he said.

“Any one of those bodies then have the ability to go out to look and to see what”s taking place,”” he said, and issue a fine.

In terms of price gouging, officers will determine how the cost compares to “the prices of goods in a community or province that regular people would expect to pay in comparison to other people.””

B.C. recognizes that prices can increase, he said, and that”s not what this is about.

“It”s one of those things: you know it when you see it.””

Compliance staff from provincial ministries and local governments will be able to enforce the new measures, including municipal bylaw officers, liquor and cannabis inspectors, conservation officers, park rangers and others.

Tickets will also be issued as required to anyone who exceeds the quantity limits on the sale of specified items, Farnworth said.

Additionally, anyone who does not comply with requirements for lodging operators to provide accommodation as requested by the province to serve as self-isolation facilities or support essential workers may be ticketed.

 


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B.C. steps up emergency response to COVID-19 with co ordinated supply chain plan

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British Columbia invoked extraordinary emergency powers Thursday to protect consumers from profiteers and to maintain the steady supply of goods and services for those who need them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The powers will also unify provincial response efforts while taking an inventory of public spaces that could serve as possible COVID-19 pandemic treatment facilities.

Premier John Horgan said the measures are required to ensure the flow of essential goods and services and support B.C.’s fight against the novel coronavirus, which has resulted in 14 deaths and infected more than 650 people.

“The steps we’ve taken today are unprecedented,” he said at a news conference. “This is not a drill, it’s a pandemic.”

Horgan said the powers under the Emergency Program Act are required to add more force to recent orders by B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has instructed people to self-isolate for 14 days if sick or recently returned from travel and practise physical distancing.

“Today, we believe we are on the right track,” said Horgan. “If we need to do more we will.”

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnsworth said the emergency orders will support efforts by Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix to reduce the numbers of infected people.

“Listen to Dr. Henry,” he said. “Dr. Henry’s orders are not suggestions or good advice, they are the law.”

Municipal bylaw officers will be permitted to enforce orders limiting the size of gatherings and business closures, Farnworth said.

The government is also looking to use vacant convention centres and other large community spaces for overflow health facilities, he said.

Dix said earlier this week, the province’s cancellation of elective and scheduled surgeries has created space in B.C. hospitals for up to 4,000 patients.

Farnworth said the government has created a supply-chain unit of government and industry advisers that will co-ordinate the flow of goods and services by land, air, marine and rail. He said aircraft currently not flying due to global travel restrictions could be used to make deliveries of supplies.

Farnworth said the resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment and cleaning products has also been banned.

Passenger and car-ferry services will be cut to minimum service levels and support for critical services for vulnerable people will be increased to stock food banks and provide shelters, he said.

The order also suspends the many community states of emergency already in place to avoid a patchwork response to the pandemic, said Farnworth, adding the suspension does not apply to Vancouver, which has its own community charter.

“It’s very much a co-operative effort,” he said. “It does give us some considerable power, but again, it’s all about planning for the long term as well as the immediate needs.”

Vancouver announced the opening of two emergency response centres in the city’s downtown to create additional space for homelessness people. It says the centres are operating on a referral basis to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“We understand this is an unprecedented use of our community centres, but deploying them in this way is critical to try to prevent the spread of the virus and mitigate the demand on our health-care system,” city manager Sadhu Johnston said in a news release.

Farnworth declared a provincial state of emergency on March 18, the day after Henry declared a public health emergency on March 17.