Tofino and Ucluelet have revised their synchronized single-use-plastics bans to include styrofoam and allow restaurants to provide straws to anyone who requests one.
Both districts crafted unified bylaws last year, prohibiting local businesses from supplying plastic straws and plastic bags to customers, however those bylaws have been updated in the wake of a similar plastic-bag-ban in Victoria being overturned by the B.C. Supreme Court after a challenge from the Canadian Plastic Bag Association.
The crux of the supreme court’s decision to rule Victoria’s bag ban invalid was that the City’s local government had not consulted the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy before implementing the new law.
Following that ruling, Tofino and Ucluelet acted proactively to protect themselves against a potential challenge from the CPBA by revising their bylaws and sending them to the ministry for review.
Tofino’s Manager of Corporate Services Elyse Goatcher-Bergmann explained the ministry responded and requested that a provision be added to allow people who request a straw to be provided with one.
“They would like to see more proactive accessibility measures included in this type of bylaw,” she said.
She added that the original bylaw did include provisions to allow customers to bring their own straw, but the ministry requested more robust inclusion, particularly for people unable to use a hard surface straw. Goatcher-Bergmann noted that paper straws are incompatible with hot beverages.
“So, we are now allowing a plastic straw to be provided upon request and we’ve also made it very clear that there is no need to ask someone for any kind of medical history or reason why they’re requesting that straw,” she said.
She clarified that the new bylaw does not require businesses to provide straws, but rather allows them to.
She added the new bylaw would be resubmitted to the province for review.
Ucluelet submitted the same bylaw in tandem with Tofino and Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said the unified prohibition is an example of the West Coast’s solidarity.
“From plastics, to housing, to COVID-19 strategies, we need to have a regional approach and that is the end goal for these municipalities…We need to try to make sure there’s some unity between the two areas to respect each other because, really, we’re one,” he said. “It’s about being united, breaking down barriers and following each others’ lead…On the staff to staff level, there’s nothing but cooperation and there’s some great things happening in the background.”
He added though that he was frustrated with the additional step both municipalities were prompted to take to gain the ministry’s approval, adding local residents have expressed resounding support for the straw and bag bans.
“It’s just more unnecessary red tape,” he said. “How much staff time are we spending on this to actually acknowledge the fact that two West Coast communities want to ban straws and styrofoam in their area…When council makes a motion to do that, they should be empowered to do what they want to do if their electorate is requesting it’s what they want to see.”
The push to ban plastic straws and bags on the West Coast was led by Surfrider Pacific Rim and chapter manager Lilly Woodbury told the Westerly News she was happy with the added accessibility provision.
“Accessibility has always been of utmost importance to Surfrider Foundation, from working towards fairer beach access for all individuals to ensuring the campaigns that we lead create changes that are equitable for all people,” Woodbury wrote in an email to the Westerly News. “With this in mind, some folks with diverse abilities may not be able to use a metal or paper straw for drinking purposes, they depend on plastic straws for the unique properties of this material. So, not all people will require or be asking for plastic straws, just the people who need them.”
Woodbury was also happy to see styrofoam added to the prohibition list after she had made two impassionaed presentations to both town’s council last month, condemning styrofoam as the most collected pollutant at Surfrider’s local beach cleans.
“It does not biodegrade, it only breaks into minuscule pieces, which makes it increasingly difficult to clean up on beaches, rocky shorelines, and in vegetative zones,” she said.
“Additionally, polystyrene has an incredibly low recycling rate and because it is so lightweight, it has very little value in our recycling system. All in all, this is an archaic material to be utilizing for food packaging, from both an environmental and public health perspective.”