Through new initiatives, the Government of British Columbia is taking action to prevent plastic waste from polluting communities, shorelines and ending up in landfills.
“People have been consistent and vocal about the need to take serious action now on plastic waste and pollution, and we have heard the message loud and clear,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Even in the face of current economic downturns, local governments and businesses have told us they remain committed to preventing millions of single-use plastic products from damaging the environment, polluting B.C.’s waters, harming wildlife and increasing costs for taxpayers.”
As part of the new set of steps, the Province is moving to approve bylaws banning single-use plastics for the municipalities of Richmond, Victoria, Saanich, Tofino and Ucluelet, clearing the way for those communities to implement their bans. The Province will also consider other bylaws as they are submitted.
The Province is also laying the groundwork to allow local governments to ban certain types of plastic products. The Province is proposing to draft a new regulation under the Community Charter to allow local governments to ban single-use plastics, such as shopping bags, plastic straws and polystyrene foam take-out containers, without requiring provincial approval.
“Every measure that prevents plastic from entering our ocean or removes it from our coasts and ocean is important,” said Chloé Dubois, president, The Ocean Legacy Foundation. “Policy measures like these are a crucial next step. I am thrilled to see our coastal communities lead the way with single-use plastic bans, as well as provincial regulations and policy supporting these and other laudable efforts to help reduce the estimated eight million tonnes of plastic that, on a global scale, enter the world’s ocean each year.”
More than 35,000 responses to the CleanBC Plastic Action Plan engagement highlighted the need to move toward provincewide bans on certain products. The What We Heard report on the plan’s engagement is available onlne: https://cleanbc.gov.bc.ca/plastics
“We will develop a legal framework to allow for provincial bans on single-use items, such as straws, take-out containers, shopping bags and other priority items. As we initiate this work, we will continue to consult to make sure solutions are manageable, take into consideration economic recovery and are phased in practically,” Heyman said. “We will also ensure that specific products continue to be available to people who live with a disability or need them for health reasons. We will align our actions with federal government initiatives if they occur on a reasonable timeframe.”
In addition, the Province is expanding the number of single-use products to be recycled through industry-funded residential recycling programs, including plastic cutlery, sandwich bags, stir sticks and other items. Details on how residents can participate will be part of future consultations.
The ministry is also exploring adding recycling programs for materials such as mattresses, electric-vehicle batteries, propane canisters and more. It will also look to improve recycling of packaging in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector. Additionally, feedback is being sought on how to address lost fishing gear that pollutes oceans and shorelines. A policy intentions paper has been posted on government’s engagement website to give stakeholders and the public an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed changes.
Working with Encorp Pacific (Return-It), the ministry is introducing a minimum 10-cent 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, Return-It. “These changes provide additional incentives and we encourage all British Columbians to participate by returning their beverage containers for recycling to improve recovery and keep plastics and other beverage containers out of our landfills, oceans and waterways. We commend the B.C. Ministry of Environment for its leadership.”
The B.C. deposit-refund system has also been improved to allow for electronic refunds, making it even easier for British Columbians to recycle. As new cashless, low-touch Return-It Express systems continue to come online, consumers who drop off their tagged refundable beverage containers to select locations can have their refund processed electronically. Refunds can be sent to consumers’ bank accounts through e-transfer or donated to a community-based organization.
These changes support the Province’s CleanBC efforts to prevent plastic waste, divert more waste from landfills and create a cleaner, better future for everyone. These and future efforts are being guided by feedback received from British Columbians. They also reflect the feedback received 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.”
CleanBC is a pathway to a more prosperous, balanced and sustainable future. CleanBC was developed in collaboration with the BC Green Party caucus and Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and supports the commitment in the Confidence and Supply Agreement to implement climate action to meet B.C.’s emission targets.
- B.C. is a leader in creating extended producer responsibility (EPR) recycling programs. It has more programs than any other jurisdiction in North America.
- B.C. has 22 industry-led EPR recycling programs covering 14 different product categories of consumer products, such as packaging, electronics and electrical products, residual solvents, beverage containers, tires and household hazardous wastes.
- 315,000 tonnes of plastics, such as those in electronics, beverage containers and other packaging, are already captured annually in B.C.’s EPR programs.
- Over the last 25 years, more than 20 billion beverage containers have been diverted from landfills and waterways in B.C.
- Including single-use and packaging-like products in the EPR system is expected to capture millions of single-use plastic items annually. These include items like plastic cutlery and cups and packaging bought for home use, such as plastic sandwich bags.
The CleanBC Plastics Action Plan What We Heard Report is now available: https://cleanbc.gov.bc.ca/plastics
Learn more about the industry-led blue box program: https://recyclebc.ca/
The intentions paper on proposals to regulate additional materials is available for public feedback: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/recycling-regulation-policy-intentions-paper
Learn more about the Return-It Express and depot/refund system: https://www.return-it.ca/
Learn more about the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan: https://cleanbc.gov.bc.ca/plastics
Learn about Malcolmson’s work on marine debris: https://gov.bc.ca/MarineDebrisProtection
A backgrounder follows.