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Let’s Talk Trash: Plastic packaging bans an early gift

Single-use plastic shopping bags and a host of other disposable plastic items will be banned across the country as of next week

Santa is bringing an early holiday gift to all Canadians. As of December 20, single-use plastic shopping bags and a host of other disposable plastic items will be banned across the country.

The announcement of a ban may have some of us scratching our heads thinking, haven’t plastic shopping bags, straws and the like already gone the way of the dodo? The quick answer is, it depends.

Individual business owners and franchises can always choose to opt out of offering plastic shopping bags, for instance. Also, municipalities can impose bans. They used to need to get permission from the province to enact plastic bans, but in 2021 the BC Community Charter was adapted to allow fast-tracking of bans for a limited list of single-use items.

If you’ve passed through Tofino, Victoria or Nanaimo over the last few years, you may have noticed that they were plastic-free (ish) oases.

After much going on behind the scenes, the province is now phasing out many single-use plastic items across BC. What do you need to know?

As of December 20, businesses will no longer be allowed to provide single-use plastic utensils, including those made from compostable, biodegradable or oxo-degradable plastic. These will be replaced by wood or bamboo utensils.

You will also start noticing that food accessories (such as cup lids, sleeves for drinks, single-serve condiments, drinking straws, sushi grass, napkins and wet wipes) will only be provided by request or at a self-service station. This is great news for your plastic karma.

No one wants unneeded utensils, ketchup packs and wet wipes accumulating in their handbag, on their car seats or in their lives in general. They’re a hassle and a waste.

Not to worry, straws needed for accessibility, accessories provided at care facilities, drink lids offered at the drive-thru and items sold at the store in quantities of more than 20 are exempt from these coming provincial bans.

Thanks to a federal ban (harmonized in timing and much of its details with the provincial ban), plastic and compostable plastic shopping bags will also be banned. Paper or reusable bags will have a minimum fee. This means that, hallelujah, you should soon be able to travel anywhere in Canada and expect the same regulations for the distribution of many single-use plastic items.

As with most good stories, however, there is a villain. The plastics industry is contesting the federal bans because they are based on the premise that all plastic manufactured items are toxic.

Not to worry, the provincial bans do not have the same vulnerability of being overturned for this reason. The main differences between the federal and provincial bans are timing, with the province phasing in bans in stages rather than all at once.

Depending how the court case unfolds, in addition to the above mentioned bans, you will also see bans on single-use plastic to-go food service containers either December 20 (federal) or July 15 (provincial). These will be replaced primarily with all paper or plastic-lined paper containers.

Businesses are being given time to use up their existing stock and adapt to the new regulations, so no panicking if you don’t see a change instantaneously. In the meantime, gifting your loved ones reusable and refillable containers and bags for the holidays is a great way to go a step above these plastic bans by avoiding disposable containers all together.

Let’s Talk Trash is contracted by qathet Regional District to deliver its waste reduction education program. For more information, email [email protected] or go to

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