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B.C. communities outracing federal single-use plastics ban

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British Columbia’s government says it is moving quickly to approve bylaws banning single-use plastics for several municipalities while it drafts a new regulation to allow more local governments to enact the bans without provincial approval.

The regulation, designed to ban single-use plastics such as shopping bags, plastic straws and polystyrene foam take-out containers, will be designed under B.C.’s Community Charter.

Single-use ban bylaws have already been submitted to the province by Richmond, Saanich, Tofino, Ucluelet and Victoria. Lisa Helps, mayor of the City of Victoria, says that a single-use plastic ban could keep more than 17 million plastic bags from being landfilled each year.

“Thanks to this provincial action, these new powers will allow the city to implement more zero-waste and circular-economy strategies,” Helps said in a statement.

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Chloé Dubois, president of the Ocean Legacy Foundation, says that B.C.’s coastal communities are leading the way when it comes to enacting policy to reduce the estimated eight million tonnes of plastic globally that enter the world’s oceans each year.

“Policy measures like these are a crucial next step,” Dubois said in an announcement. “Every measure that prevents plastic from entering our ocean or removes it from our coasts and ocean is important.”

George Heyman, B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said the province will continue to consult and ensure solutions are manageable and phased in practically, with considerations for economic recovery from the pandemic.

“We will also ensure that specific products continue to be available to people who live with a disability or need them for health reasons,” announced Heyman. “We will align our actions with federal government initiatives if they occur on a reasonable time frame,” he added.

Canada’s single-use plastics ban is on track for 2021, but has faced some setbacks due to demands for items such as masks and gloves during the pandemic.

B.C.’s CleanBC Plastic Action Plan estimates some 40% of existing plastics are used only once.

Notably, however, B.C. continues to expand the number of single-use products that can be recycled through industry-funded residential programs, including plastic cutlery, sandwich bags, stir sticks and other items. Some 315,000 tonnes of plastics, such as those in electronics, beverage containers and other packaging, are already captured annually through the province’s extended producer responsibility programs.

B.C. is also working with Encorp Pacific (Return-It), to introduce a minimum $0.10 deposit on all beverage containers. Also, for the first time, milk and milk-alternative containers are scheduled to be added to the deposit and refund system.

“The changes to the B.C. Recycling Regulation reinforce B.C.’s leadership in protecting the environment and extended producer responsibility performance in Canada,” said Allen Langdon, president and CEO of Return-It.

The province is also working to solve the issue of lost fishing gear that pollutes oceans and shorelines, an issue often encountered by Sheila Malcolmson, Parliamentary Secretary of Environment, during engagement in her role as special advisor on marine debris and abandoned vessels.

“Last year, I toured many coastal communities to hear first-hand the challenges they are facing with marine debris, including plastics,” Malcolmson said. “Every person and organization I heard from, including local governments and First Nation communities, expressed their fears for the marine environment and their commitment to being part of the solutions.”

B.C. officials have had more than 35,000 public responses to their CleanBC Plastic Action Plan.

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