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Straws, stir sticks and bags among first targets of countrywide plastics ban

shutterstock_700694767Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says six single-use plastic items that aren’t easily recycled and already have more environmentally friendly alternatives will be the first to go under Canada’s new restrictions on plastics.

That means the end of next year will be the end of the road for plastic straws, stir sticks, carry-out bags, cutlery, dishes and takeout containers and six-pack rings for cans and bottles.

Wilkinson says many of the items that aren’t on that list, such as plastic bottles, will be getting new standards to require them to contain a minimum amount of recycled material.

He says there is also a push to standardize how plastic items are made, from the types and amounts of plastic used to the dyes and adhesives, so recycling them is easier.

The Alberta government announced Tuesday it wants to become a hub for Canada’s expanding recycling industry.

Canada currently recycles less than 10% of the three million tonnes of plastic it produces each year, and along with the provinces has set a goal of have zero plastic waste ending up in landfills by 2030.

“There is an enormous amount of opportunity for improvement,” said Wilkinson, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Canada intends to add plastics to a list of toxic items under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and is issuing a discussion paper on the banned items and recycled content standards and other plans.

Wilkinson said the aim is to have everything in place by the end of next year.

A 2019 report commissioned by Environment Canada found Canada’s recycling industry was hampered by cost and access. It is cheaper and easier to produce new plastic than it is to recycle it, reuse it or repair it, and without minimum standards requiring the use of recycled content, the market for recycled plastic was small.

The report said in 2016, Canadians threw 3.3 million tonnes of plastic away, 12 times what was recycled.

It said there were fewer than a dozen recycling companies in Canada, employing about 500 people with about $350 million in revenue between them.

Until recently, Canada and most other wealthy nations shipped much of the recyclable plastic tossed in their blue bins across the ocean to Asia. China in particular was the biggest buyer of the items, which were recycled into plastic pellets used in its massive manufacturing sector.

But China slammed the door shut to that option at the beginning of 2018, tired of being the world’s garbage dump. So much of the material arriving by the shipload could not be recycled and ended up in landfills in China instead.

Canada will join dozens of nations that have enacted various bans on single-use plastics. The United Kingdom just began enforcing a ban on straws, stir sticks and plastic-stemmed cotton buds just last week.

France began phasing in a ban in January, starting with plastic plates, cups and cotton buds. Straws and cutlery will be added in 2021, and tea bags, fast-food toys and takeout containers in 2022.

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Vancouver bans plastic bags, straws, foam containers and other single use items

shutterstock_700694767Vancouver is bringing in bans on the use of plastic bags, straws and other single-use items, while introducing what the city believes to be a first-of-its-kind fee for disposable cups in the country.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart says bylaws passed by city council balance public demand for action on disposable items with the needs of those with disabilities and the business community.

“We have heard loud and clear that reducing waste from single-use items is important to residents and that bold action is needed,” Stewart said Thursday in a news release.

Under the new rules, plastic and compostable plastic straws will be banned on April 22, but food vendors must provide bendable straws upon request to meet an accessibility requirement. A one-year extension has been granted to allow plastic straws served with bubble tea, allowing more time for the market to provide alternatives.

Single-use utensils can only be given out when requested.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, plastic and compostable plastic shopping bags will also be prohibited.

Retailers can still provide paper bags, but they must contain at least 40% recycled content. Shoppers will be charged a fee of 15 cents for each paper bag in the first year, then 25 cents a bag after that.

The fees for buying reusable bags will be $1 in 2021 and $2 beginning the next year.

Disposable cups will also come with a 25-cent fee.

“The bylaws are crucial in reducing waste and litter,” said Monica Kosmak, the city’s senior project manager on the plan.

Each week in Vancouver, 2.5 million paper cups and two million plastic shopping bags are thrown out. Over the course of a year, 25 million to 30 million plastic straws also end up in landfills, she said.

Estimating exactly how much waste will be diverted is difficult, however. The city expects the effects of the bans to be significant and Kosmak said studies have shown fees on paper bags reduce their use by 80 to 90%.

Kosmak said Berkeley, Calif., has a disposable cup fee but she believes Vancouver is the first city in Canada to introduce one.

“We are breaking new ground with the fees on disposable cups so we’ll be monitoring that to see how effective it is,” she said.

Each business will keep the mandatory fees it collects.

The new rules join a previously approved bylaw that takes effect on Jan. 1 that prohibits foam cups and takeout containers.

The city has posted toolkits to help businesses and charities prepare for the bans.

But the rules irk some members of the business community. Greg Wilson, director of B.C. government relations with the Retail Council of Canada, said they are cumbersome and complex.

The burden on small businesses is disproportionate, he said, giving the example of a bike repair company that typically gives out fewer than 100 plastic bags a year. Switching to paper bags means they have to reprogram their point-of-sale register to display a separate line for the bag fee, then reprogram it again next year when the fee goes up. They are also required to report the number of single-use items they distribute to customers.

“For a big business, those reprogramming costs, those reporting costs, they’re not overly significant. But for a small independent business, those are very significant,” he said.

Vancouver’s plastic bag rules are also different than neighbouring jurisdictions, which is confusing for consumers and also businesses with stores in multiple municipalities, Wilson said.

“You have something that is very complex and not harmonized with surrounding jurisdictions,” he said.

Kosmak said Vancouver’s plastic bag bylaws closely resemble 12 of the 14 B.C. municipalities that have developed or are developing similar rules.