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Bin full of disposable cups

Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy

With your help, we've created a made-in-Vancouver strategy to dramatically reduce waste from single-use items.

The Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy includes actions from now until the year 2025 to reduce waste from:

  • Plastic and paper shopping bags
  • Polystyrene foam cups and take-out containers 
  • Disposable hot and cold drink cups
  • Take-out food containers
  • Disposable straws and utensils

We all have a role to play in ensuring this strategy succeeds at reducing waste from single-use items, enabling innovation, and driving further zero-waste progress. We can’t get there alone.

Did you know?

Despite their convenience, single-use items:

  • Use a significant amount of resources
  • Are often not reused or recycled
  • Take up valuable space in our landfill
  • Impact our environment long after they're used
  • Cost Vancouver taxpayers about $2.5 million per year to collect from public waste bins and to clean up as litter in our parks, streets, and green spaces

Get involved

Subscribe to updates, join us at a free reuse and recycle drop-off event, and share your ideas to reduce waste and consumption.

Our priority actions

We believe the following priority actions will have the most impact in dramatically reducing waste from single-use items. Some of these actions will take time, while others can be implemented right away.

Waste snapshot

  • Around 2 million plastic shopping bags are disposed in the garbage in Vancouver each week (63% are reused as garbage bags).
  • Plastic bags make up 3% of shoreline litter and 2% of large litter items in Vancouver streets, parks, and public spaces.
  • Paper bags make up 1% of large street litter items.
  • Plastic bags harm marine life and are made using non-renewable fossil fuels.
  • It can take anywhere from 10-10,000 years for a plastic shopping bag to decompose.
  • Paper bags actually cause more harmful greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetime than plastic bags because of manufacturing processes and they are heavier to transport.

What we heard

  • During Phase 2 of consultation, many businesses asked for the flexibility to create their own plans for reducing plastic and paper shopping bags. 
  • The public consistently expressed support for strong action on bags, such as a plastic bag ban or higher fees for paper bags.

We will

We will introduce the following priority actions for plastic and paper shopping bags. Additional actions are listed in the Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy. 

Year Action

2018

Promote and amplify education and behaviour change campaigns led by industry organizations, non-profits, and community groups. 

2019 - 2020

 

Require business license holders to have reduction plans for plastic and paper shopping bags, and report to us the amount of bags they distribute. Businesses can choose one of these options: 

  • No plastic or paper shopping bags to be distributed
  • Plastic or paper shopping bags cannot be distributed for free 
  • Other mechanisms that achieve a reduction target to be proposed and finalized through consultation

Education and outreach:

  • Execute a social media campaign to educate the public and businesses.
  • Develop display material for businesses to help educate customers.
2021 - 2025

Require office buildings to provide collection of plastic bags for recycling.

Evaluate the need for the City to specify the amount of fees that business license holders must charge or introduce a ban on plastic and paper bags.


Why we think it’s a good idea

  • This approach applies equally to all plastic and paper shopping bags, and to all businesses using bags, which ensures a level playing field.
  • Communities that have implemented plastic bag bans typically only ban thin plastic bags, and sometimes only from grocery stores and pharmacies. Thicker, “reusable” plastic bags are still allowed in most communities with plastic bag bans. 
  • Communities that have implemented fees or taxes on bags have seen immediate and significant results.
  • Our strategy begins by allowing flexibility for businesses to develop a reduction plan that works for them, while including commitments to evaluate the need for stronger regulatory measures like bans or specified fees if dramatic results aren’t achieved.

Waste snapshot

  • Expanded polystyrene foam (sometimes called “thermal”) cups and take-out containers are only recyclable if they are not contaminated with leftover food or mixed with other materials like paper, plastics, glass, or grit. 
  • The only option for recycling foam cups and containers in Vancouver is to drop them off at depots or stores, however, only 6% of Vancouver residents say they will take foam containers to a recycling depot.
  • 1% of large litter on Vancouver streets is made of polystyrene cups and containers.
  • Small foam pieces made up 9% of items collected in Vancouver shoreline cleanups in 2016.

What we heard

  • During Phase 2 of consultation, we heard clear support from the public for a ban on polystyrene cups and take-out containers. Support for a ban was heard from: 
    • 90% of individuals who filled out a comment form
    • 78% of respondents in a public opinion survey 
    • More than 77% of respondents in an online survey
  • In Phase 3 of the consultation, the public once again expressed strong support for a ban on single-use polystyrene foam cups and take-out containers and wanted to see it implemented quickly. 
  • Not all stakeholders were in support of a ban:
    • Plastics industry representatives would rather see improved foam collection and processing.
    • Some restaurateurs expressed concerns around an increase in operating costs related to switching to alternative materials. 
    • Others believed customers would not be willing to pay additional money to help businesses switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives. However, based on opinion research, 82% of Vancouver residents would be willing to pay more for reusable options or single-use items that could be recycled in household or apartment recycling programs.

We will

Year Action

2018

Introduce bylaw amendments to prohibit business license holders from serving prepared food in polystyrene foam cups and take-out containers, beginning June 1, 2019.

Education and outreach:

  • Develop language-appropriate educational resources about substitute materials for polystyrene cups and containers for business license holders
  • Work with groups without a business license such as faith-based organizations, charitable organizations, and others to raise awareness about the need to use recyclable or compostable substitute materials
  • Execute a social media campaign to align with bylaw amendments to educate the public and businesses about the ban
2019 - 2020

 

Convene a stakeholder group to develop approaches for small businesses to apply their collective buying power to purchase recyclable and compostable cups and take-out containers at reduced costs.


Why we think it’s a good idea

  • Throughout our consultation process, we heard overwhelming support for a ban on polystyrene cups and containers.
  • There is no workable alternative. There are currently no viable programs for recovering and recycling polystyrene cups and take-out containers in household or apartment programs, and residents are unwilling to clean and deliver them to depots for recycling.
  • Small businesses and social services agencies requested support with the transition, especially in terms of translated materials, education, and outreach.

Waste snapshot

  • Disposable cups include polycoat paper cups (such as coffee cups) and plastic cups.
  • 2.6 million polycoat paper cups are thrown in the trash in Vancouver every week.
  • Nearly 50% of garbage collected from public waste bins are disposable cups and take-out containers.
  • 22% of litter on Vancouver streets are disposable cups, lids, and sleeves.
  • Recycle BC accepts polycoat paper cups in its household and apartment recycling program, but many businesses do not accept them because their waste collection companies struggle to access recycling markets.

What we heard

  • During Phase 2 of consultation, many businesses asked for the flexibility to create their own plans for reducing disposable cups. 
  • The public were supportive of fees on disposable cups:
    • 64% of public opinion survey respondents supported fees on cups
    • 70% of respondents in an online survey supported fees on cups
  • The public were supportive of making businesses responsible for the single-use item waste they produce.
    • 89% of public opinion survey respondents and 96% of online  survey respondents were in support of requiring quick-serve restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops to provide recycling for the disposable items they give out. 
  • The business community expressed concern about an unspecified fee and how businesses would determine a rate that was consistent with their competitors as well as customer satisfaction. There were also concerns around any additional costs they may incur.

We will

Year Action

2018

Investigate options to reduce the costs of collecting disposable cups in public waste bins and as litter, and recover these costs from the businesses that generate this waste.

Promote and amplify education and behaviour change programs led by industry organizations, non-profits, and community groups.

2019 - 2020

 

Require business license holders to have reduction plans for disposable cups, and report to the City the amount of cups they distribute. These plans will allow businesses to choose one of the below options: 

  • No disposable cups to be distributed
  • Disposable cups cannot be distributed for free 
  • Other mechanisms that achieve a reduction target to be proposed and finalized through consultation

Education  and outreach:

  • Execute a social media campaign to educate the public and businesses
  • Develop display material for businesses to help education customers

Infrastructure and programs:

  • Explore the need and feasibility for requiring commercial dishwashers to support the use of reusable cups for beverages consumed on-site.
  • Explore opportunities to support the development of sharing and exchange programs for a city-wide travel mug exchange program 
2021 - 2025

Evaluate the need for a bylaw amendment to require single-use cups to be recyclable or compostable, with clear guidelines for acceptable materials that can be processed in local recycling and composting facilities.

Require in-store collection of recyclable and compostable cups.

Require office buildings to provide recycling or compost collection programs for disposable cups.

Evaluate the need for the City to specify the amount of fees that business license holders must charge on disposable cups in order to drive further reduction.


Why we think it’s a good idea

  • Businesses and the business community are generally in support of action on disposable cups. 
  • It is important to work with industry to implement sustainable initiatives for cup reduction.
  • A reduction plan will drive overall reduction, while still providing flexibility for businesses to choose a plan that works for them.
  • A reusable travel mug exchange network allows for convenience without the waste.

Waste snapshot

  • Reduction and reuse alternatives for take-out containers are not well developed in Vancouver.
  • Quick-serve and take-out restaurants generally serve meals in disposable containers, as many of these restaurants don’t have space for commercial dishwashers or storage for dishes. 
  • Health codes currently prevent restaurants from filling take-out orders in containers brought in by customers unless they have a documented procedure, approved by their local Health Authority.
  • Nearly 50% of all garbage collected from public waste bins is take-out containers and disposable cups.
  • Compostable and recyclable packaging materials often get mixed up when discarded, contaminating both streams and making them impossible to process. This means they get disposed to landfill and incinerator.

What we heard

  • A public opinion survey found that: 
    • 84% of public opinion survey respondents and 87% of online survey respondents believe quick-serve restaurants or cafés should provide reusable dishware for eating in
    • 82% of public opinion survey respondents would be willing to pay more for take-out containers that are recyclable in household or apartment recycling programs
  • The public were generally supportive of making businesses responsible for the single-use item waste they produce.
    • 96% of online survey respondents and 89% of public opinion survey respondents were in support of requiring quick-serve restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops to provide recycling for the disposable items they give out. 
  • The business community expressed concerns around any additional costs they may incur.

We will

Year Action

2018

Investigate opportunities to recover the costs of collecting take-out containers in public waste bins and as litter from the businesses that generate this waste. 

Launch a Bring Your Own Container pilot in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health.

2019 - 2020

 

​Infrastructure and programs:
  • Explore the need and feasibility for requiring commercial dishwashers to support the use of reusable dishes on-site.
  • Explore opportunities to support the development of sharing exchange programs for reusable items such as a city-wide reusable take-out container exchange program.
  • Engage food delivery services and food vendors that offer delivery to identify opportunities to reduce single-use take-out containers and packaging.
2021 - 2025

Evaluate the need for bylaw amendments to require take-out containers to be recyclable or compostable, with clear guidelines for acceptable materials that can be processed in local recycling and composting facilities.

Require in-store collection of recyclable and compostable take-out containers.

Require office buildings to provide recycling and compost collection for take-out containers.

Evaluate the need to introduce reduction plans for take-out containers once sufficient reusable alternatives and infrastructure have been established.

 

Waste snapshot

  • Canadians throw out approximately 57 million plastic straws a day.
  • Plastic straws and stir sticks make up about 3% of shoreline litter in Vancouver.
  • Plastic straws and utensils can fall through screens on recycling sorting lines that are designed to remove contaminants. 
  • Plastic straws and utensils have a significant potential to contaminate compost.
  • Compost facilities have difficulties processing compostable plastic straws and utensils because they take a long time to break down.
  • Plastic straws and utensils have negative impacts on marine life and the environment.

What we heard

  • During Phase 2 of consultation, we heard strong support from stakeholders and the public to include single-use straws and utensils in the strategy. We also received a petition from more than 110 businesses asking the City to reduce or eliminate plastic straws.
  • We heard from the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, the Seniors’ Advisory Committee, and social service providers in the Downtown Eastside, who highlighted the need for durable straws to be allowed for people with musculoskeletal and oral health care needs.
  • During Phase 3, we consulted the public on a proposed action to require businesses to ask customers if they want a straw before giving them on.  
    • The public and some environmental groups felt this proposed action was not strong enough.
    • Some businesses were concerned this action was impractical, would aggravate their customers, and may have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of straws distributed.
  • During Phase 3, the public asked for more action on utensils. Stakeholders indicated support for requiring businesses to only give out disposable utensils when requested by the customers.

We will

Year Action

2019 - 2020

Introduce bylaw amendments to prohibit business license holders from distributing single-use plastic straws beginning June 1 2019, taking into consideration appropriate exemptions for health care needs.

Introduce bylaw amendments to prohibit business license holders from providing single-use utensils unless requested by customers.

Education and outreach:

  • Introduce social media campaign to educate the public and businesses.
  • Develop display material for businesses to help educate customers.

2021 - 2025

Evaluate the need for bylaw amendments to require single-use straws and utensils to be recyclable or compostable, with clear guidelines for acceptable materials that can be processed in local recycling and composting facilities.

Require in-store collection of recyclable and compostable straws and utensils where distributed.

Evaluate the need for the City to require set fees to be charged on single-use straws and utensils.


Why we think it’s a good idea

  • Public support for strong action on straws and utensils
  • Throughout our consultation process we heard overwhelming support from the public, businesses, and stakeholder groups for strong action to be taken to reduce or eliminate plastic straws in Vancouver. Many businesses are already asking customers before distributing them.
  • There are alternatives to single-use plastic straws and utensils, such as compostable and stainless steel options, that make it easier for businesses to offer substitutes or customers to bring their own. 

Priority actions approved by Council

Year Action

2018

  • Support Metro Vancouver’s work to develop a Regional Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy.
2019 - 2020

 

  • Work with Metro Vancouver to expand regional disposal bans to all disposable cups, foam cups and take-out containers, compostable take-out containers, and food-soiled paper.
Year Action

2018

  • Engage producers and the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is a dialogue to require Extended Producer Responsibility  for: 
    • Compostable plastic bags, cups, and take-out containers
    • All bags, cups, and take-out containers generated on industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) property Recyclable and compostable
    • Single-use straws and utensils from all types of properties
Year Action

2018

  • Participate in the consultation process for Environment and Climate Change Canada to develop a national single-use plastics reduction strategy

Timeline

  • Feb 2016

    Council directs staff to report back on regulatory options for single-use items

  • Mar-Sep 2016

    Research to identify regulatory options and other best practices

  • Oct 2016

    Phase 1 consultation

    Single-Use Item Reduction workshop

  • Dec 2016-
    Feb 2017

    Further research and analysis

  • Mar-May 2017

    Develop emerging directions

  • June 2017

    Council update and consultation launch

  • Jun 2017-
    Feb 2018

    Phase 2 consultation

  • March 2018

    Phase 3 consultation launch

    Draft strategy published for feedback

  • April 2018

    Phase 2 consultation report published online

  • May 16, 2018

    Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy approved by Council

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