Reducing Single-Use Items

Local governments around the world are taking new actions to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown, and doing their part to A) call on senior levels of government for a more urgent, emergency response, and B) undertake actions within their local communities to reduce harmful environmental practices.

Reducing single-use items is one initiative where the District of Squamish is focusing its efforts.

The District of Squamish is developing a Single Use Items bylaw which aims to reduce all single use items, including plastic bags and straws. The bylaw will introduce a fee scale as a means to encourage the use of reusable bags, while also reducing the consumption of all types of single-use bags.

Project information

  • Regulations for the reduction of the distribution of check-out bags and the unnecessary distribution of plastic straws will be influenced by targeted stakeholder engagement.
  • Discussions will involve regulating single-use bags with fees, appropriate exemptions, as well as a grace period to permit the use of existing stock, amongst other topics.
  • The intention is to focus on up-front education for the general public, support for affected businesses, and support of existing single-use plastic reduction initiatives to encourage sustained shifts in business and consumer habits and avoid burdening enforcement resources.
  • This is a step towards a phased approach to removing all single use plastics in the community.

What are single-use items?

Single-use items generally refer to plastic products that are considered disposable and only used once before they are recycled or thrown away. This includes plastic bags, straws, utensils, take-out containers, cups, Styrofoam containers and more. 

Why reduce and regulate single-use items?

There are multiple impacts of plastic check-out bags and the unnecessary use of plastic drinking straws on the District’s waste operations, including the increased volume in the Squamish Landfill, clogging of catch basins, litter collection, filling streetscape garbage bins and debris in the surrounding environment. There is a financial cost associated with all of these impacts, which is a cost to taxpayers.

Of additional concern is that these materials quickly become waste after only one or a few uses. The free provision of single-use materials represents a systemic business/consumer transaction that privileges short-term convenience over long term sustainability. The current overuse of plastic checkout bags and the unnecessary use of plastic drinking straws in our community is unsustainable over the long term and is inconsistent with the values of Squamish residents, as presented in the Official Community Plan.

While some local businesses have already taken action to reduce impacts (i.e. fees on bags, straws are optional or not provided at all), the current volume and frequency of disposable checkout bag and straw transactions in our community continue. A wholesale shift to sustainable, reusable bags and keeping plastic straw use to only when it is necessary will reduce landfill volumes, pollution and litter risks in our community. Further, this shift will only be successful if we avoid any unintended shift to excessive and damaging consumption of paper or reusable bags or biodegradable or compostable straws, and instead help businesses and residents to change their habits.

What about paper bags?

Research suggests that banning single-use plastic bags could lead to increased consumption of other types of bags, such as paper and polypropylene bags which have higher greenhouse gas emissions than plastic due to the way in which they are manufactured and transported. In addition, paper can produce produce methane (a potent greenhouse gas) when breaking down. As a result, it is estimated that the production of paper bags has three times the environmental and greenhouse gas impact than the production of plastic bags.Therefore, it is crucial to reduce consumption of all single-use bags, not just plastic. 

Regulation objectives

The main outcomes of regulating single-use plastic check-out bags and the unnecessary use of drinking straws are that fewer bags and straws would require recycling or disposal in the Landfill and a reduction of these items littered in the environment. The focus is to maximize the avoidance, reduction and reuse of these products, as per the pollution prevention hierarchy illustrated below.

Another expected outcome is that residents realize that a change in behaviour is required from our current way of thinking. While this initiative in and of itself will not solve all our issues, it is the thin edge of the wedge that will help to begin to change human behaviour and challenge what is acceptable, with the hope of moving people away from complacency to action.

hierarchy2 

Figure 1: Pollution Prevention Hierarchy

Local waste management and recycling of single-use plastics

It is estimated that around 4[1] million single-use plastic check-out bags are provided to Squamish residents by local businesses each year and that Canadians throw out about 57 million straws[2]every day.

The 2018 waste composition study conducted at the Squamish Landfill shows that approximately 1,150 tonnes of plastic (or 9.5% of the total tonnage at the landfill) was disposed of in that year. Of which, around 104 tonnes was residential plastic film (retail bags and film wrap) and 116 tonnes was from industrial, commercial and institutional sources. Straws are included in the category of “durable products” (non-packaging such as tapes, toys, straws, cutlery, household objects), which constituted an average of 2%[3]of the total waste (by mass). Due to the small size and light-weight of straws, it is extremely difficult to estimate what amount of the durable products found were straws.

Neither plastic check-out bags nor plastic straws can be recycled through the curbside recycling system in Squamish. In Squamish, through Recycle BC, plastic check-out bags can be brought to the Queens Way Recycle Centre, London Drugs and the Squamish Landfill. Other retailers and grocery stores in the community voluntarily collect soft plastics. There is currently no recycling system set-up for plastic straws in Squamish and they are considered garbage as soon as they are used. Both plastic bags and straws are among the top 10 litter items picked up during beach cleanups[4] worldwide.

 

Learn more:



[1] An estimated 200 plastic check-out bags per capita, Plastics Oceans Foundation: www.plasticoceans.ca/facts/

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/plastic-straws-styrofoam-garbage-vancouver-1.4605754

[3] Because the percentages are calculated by weight, it is difficult to know how many straws can be attributed to the category of “durable products”. Within the waste composition categories the consultants were not requested to evaluate the frequency of single-use plastic bags or other single-use items specifically.

[4] https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/international-coastal-cleanup/annual-data-release/

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Comments

  • Sandy Bergeron Sep 20, 2019 3:57 AM (31 days ago)

    We moved from Squamish to Qualicum Beach where there is now a full ban on plastic bags and is the best thing that could have happened!
    We now think to bring our cloth bags to the store, if you forget there are paper bags in which you pay for, prompting you to remember your cloth bags!
    We now even bought mesh bags for produce!
    Get with the changing times Squamish. Planet first!!

  • Martin Fichtl Aug 30, 2019 4:46 PM (52 days ago)

    A credible source (the District of Squamish, perhaps?) needs to educate the public about plastic recycling. It does not exist in any meaningful way. Ask the guys in the yard at Carney's (GFL) where the plastic ends up and they will tell you: buried in the land fill. Or burned in China, if they're buying, or floating around in the ocean.

    People need to know that plastic recycling is 90% a lie. (Sources say only 10% of plastic in Canada is recycled). Perhaps then people would chose not to buy single use plastic. Right now people feel warm and fuzzy throwing their plastic in the blue bin. By encouraging recycling, governments at all levels are complicit in this lie.

    Tell people that plastic recycling is a farce made to make the consumer feel better about being complicit in environmental destruction.

    Please stop selling bottled water. Instead, for example at Brennan Park, sell a re-usable bottle and have a tap where people can fill their bottles. Make it illegal to stop the absurdity of purchasing bottled water.

    The DOS should stop allowing drive throughs. Structure prices in stores and restaurants to reward purchase of reusable containers.

    The solutions are endless. Ultimately, it is governments willingness to curtail corporate profits by legislating what is right.

    Focussing on plastic straws = hilarious. The ship is sinking and we are worried about straws!

  • Richard Tennant Aug 20, 2019 4:19 AM (2 months ago)

    Steam + pressure = extruded plastic logs from unsorted raw plastics. These logs are well suited for use as railway ties/sleepers for landscaping; erosion control devices for forestry application; etc, thereby eliminating any need for 'reducing' plastics use or for blue box sorting of plastics

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