Tofino and Ucluelet are updating their synchronized single-use plastic bans to protect themselves from groups like the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, which successfully challenged a similar ban in Victoria and had it reversed by the B.C. Court of Appeals.
The West Coast’s two municipal councils collaborated on a peninsula-wide prohibition of plastic bags and straws last year and officially adopted bylaws banning local businesses from offering either on World Oceans Day, June 8.
Both bylaws included a transition period prior to fines becoming enforceable on Jan. 1, 2020, though no such fines have been dished out to date.
“We’ve had some great success with this bylaw,” said Tofino’s manager of corporate services Elyse Goatcher-Bergmann during Feb. 11’s regular council meeting. “We’ve had amazing uptake in our business community as well as residents and the compliance is quite high.”
While both towns’ bylaws remain in effect and unchallenged, Goatcher-Bergmann noted that the City of Victoria recently lost an appeal against its plastic bag ban bylaw and explained Victoria’s bylaw relied on the same provision within the Community Charter as the West Coast’s bylaws.
Following the Canadian Plastic Bag Association’s challenge, the BC Court of Appeals ruled that Victoria’s plastic bag ban needed to have been approved by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy before being adopted.
In light of that ruling, Goatcher-Bergmann advised Tofino’s council to repeal the bylaw it passed in 2019 and give three readings of a new bylaw that will be submitted to the ministry before being adopted.
She explained that the new bylaw is very similar to the one it’s replacing, but “expressly identifies that the bylaw is being adopted for the protection of the natural environment.”
Council unanimously agreed and the new bylaw was sent to the ministry for review last week. Ucluelet unanimously passed a similar resolution during their Feb. 11 meeting.
Public hearings are expected to be scheduled in both towns to give residents an opportunity to voice their opinions before either bylaw is officially passed.
The councils’ synchronized bans were made possible thanks to significant leg-work done by the Surfrider Foundation’s Pacific Rim chapter and chapter manager Lilly Woodbury presented to both local governments last week, advising them that Surfrider hopes to eliminate all single-use plastic takeaway packaging from the West Coast by 2022.
With bags and straws in the rearview mirror, Surfrider has launched a new campaign dubbed ‘Cut the Cutlery and Forget the Foam’ that aims to help local businesses nix all plastic cutlery and styrofoam packaging by World Water Day on March 22.
Woodbury said she is confident in the Coast’s ability to rid itself of styrofoam and plastic cutlery because neither are currently prevalent.
“Businesses are ready for this change; they’ve displayed a great willingness. Most of them are doing this anyways, some just needed a little advice on what the best alternative is,” she said. “Just as we did with straws and bags, we really want to be the on-the-ground force to support businesses with consultations…We want to be there to make this change as easy as possible and, to be completely honest, I feel like this is a super low hanging fruit compared to the goals that we have ahead of us and how much more difficult straws and bags were because of how prevalent they were.”
She said disregarded plastic from takeout orders threatens marine environments, pollutes public spaces and ends up in landfills
“Plastic cutlery can’t be recycled in our jurisdiction, so it’s going to landfill. We’re finding it on beaches and we find it on our [Multi-Use-Path] cleanup every year,” she said adding discarded styrofoam is one of the most common and hardest to remove offenders found during local cleanups.
“This is one of the most ubiquitous materials that we find on our coast. It breaks down into tiny, minuscule pieces,” she said.
“We want to eliminate styrofoam because it’s honestly just an archaic material to be using to eat from, with the chemicals that are getting released, with how hard it is to recycle [and] with the impact that it poses to the marine environments.”
She added that both styrofoam and plastic cutlery have “accessible, ecological alternatives” and that, while both the provincial and federal governments have voiced commitments around eliminating single-use plastics, the West Coast is leading by example by taking actual action.
“They claim to be a leader on plastic pollution, but really, so far, have just been a leader in rhetoric,” she said. “Tofino and Ucluelet are the real deals on this because we have been taking action, we have been doing it and, I think, now is our chance to keep our communities ahead of the curve of what’s happening, to bring more positive attention to this area and to be a model for other communities to follow.”