Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Reducing the number of single-use items that end up as waste

Street Bin in Langley City

Single-use containers make up a significant portion of the volume of discarded materials in street bins. In fact, a City of Vancouver study found that around half of the materials in street bins were lightweight foodware. When I walk through our community, it is these single-use containers that appear to make up a significant amount of litter on the streets, in our parks, and in our protected areas.

Metro Vancouver is looking at ways to reduce the amount of single-use items that end up getting discarded. Some of the approaches available that the regional district is looking into include:

  • “By request-only” regulations
  • Mandatory fees
  • Restrictions on sale/distribution

“By request-only” regulations means that businesses would only distribute single-use items if explicitly asked for by a customers. An example would be that coffee shops would default to “for-here” cups instead of “to-go” cups.

A mandatory fee is another option that could be applied to single-use items. We see this today with shopping bags where people have to pay 5 cents per bag. In the Metro Vancouver report, it is noted that charging a fee for single-use containers would be more effective in reducing usage than providing a discount for people who use reusable containers.

Another proposed option would be an outright prohibition on the sales and distribution of certain single-use items. This option would likely have unintended consequences including creating different types of waste, and impacting people who require single-use items.

Another option that I’ve seen trialed is a deposit on single-use containers. For example, a 5 cent deposit could be applied to single-use items. This has been highly effective in keeping beverage containers from becoming litter or landfill.

While Metro Vancouver and municipalities can advocate for solutions to reducing the number of single-use items that get discarded, the provincial government is ultimately responsible for implementing laws and regulations around discarded materials such as single-use items. To be most effective, a province-wide single-use item reduction strategy would be required.

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