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Restaurants worry about costs, unhappy patrons as Victoria considers rules to discourage single-use containers

One City of Victoria proposal would require reusable dishware for dine-in meals.
Kelsea Van Ness, front of house manager for Tacofino on Pandora Avenue. TIMES COLONIST

The restaurant industry is bracing for backlash from the public and increased costs as the City of Victoria drafts a new bylaw that aims to discourage the use of one-use cups and takeout containers, and require reusable dishware if meals and drinks are consumed on the premises.

The proposed bylaw is an effort by the city to cut down on the number of disposable items ending up in the landfill.

The city estimates about 220,000 single-use items are tossed out every day. City crews collect five million cups and containers every year at curbside and another nine million from city garbage cans.

“We don’t have a problem with the proposed bylaw. We have already taken steps to reduce our waste and use compostable containers for all our takeout orders,” said Kelsea Van Nes, front of house manager for Tacofino on Pandora Avenue. “As a takeout dominant establishment, we are happy do our part to see the last days of plastic containers.”

She would like the city to step up, when the time comes, to explain restrictions on single-use containers, including the possibility of a fee.

“Often staff have to bear the brunt of complaints or dissatisfaction for unpopular initiatives. It’s just one more that that could dampen customer demand,” said Van Nes, who has been with the company for eight years. “I am looking forward to hearing more about the logistics of how the city is going to roll out this bylaw.”

Other restaurant operators are also cautiously optimistic about the bylaw.

“I think the bylaw is a double-edged sword,” said Scott Demner, owner/operator of La Taquista on Blanshard Street. “The bylaw is just another thing on top of everything a restaurant has to do to operate — it doesn’t make life easier for any of us. On the other hand, I am all for anything that that will help reduce the volume of disposables ending up in the landfill.”

Others in the industry would like to see more details — or incentives.

“It would be nice if they gave small grants to each business that is expected to make the change,” said Colin Ryan, who has worked in the Greater Victoria hospitality industry for 17 years. “The industry has been asked to absorb so much cost lately, from pandemic closures, staffing shortages and closures, increased wage cost, and inflation making their costs higher and lowering the disposable income of their customer base. I’m sure many in the industry would be interested as long as it was universally applied and financially supported.”

The local initiative comes just over a month after the City of Vancouver announced that it was scrapping its 25-cent single-use cup fee no later than June 1. Imposed 14 months ago, the fee was meant to discourage the profusion of disposable cups in that city.

The City of Vancouver said that the fee had little impact on changing consumer habits, other than seeing some commuters purchasing their to-go drinks in neighbouring municipalities which did not charge a fee before their drive into the city.

The City of Victoria is also proposing restaurants who provide on-premises meals and drinks to offer reusable dishware for patrons.

“We are prepared for that change, should they institute it,” said Taocfino’s Van Nes.

She said that the dishwashing equipment at their Pandora Street location is more than able to handle the extra cleaning demand. The change will probably require her to hire extra staff to operate the equipment during the restaurant’s peak times.

“We’re lucky because we are well-staffed and can handle it, but not all restaurants can say that. With the extra volume, a business may have to hire another person, driving up their operating costs,” she said.

The requirement would mean having to purchase additional dinnerware and cutlery — another added cost.

Some owners believe this could be a death knell for some establishments.

“Folks with dine-in places have probably been hit harder than straight takeout places (during COVID-19). I am not sure all of them will survive another hit,” said Doug Pelton, CEO of Keating Pizza and Gonzales Coffee. The adoption of a bylaw calling for reusable dishes and utensils for dine-in customers would have a chilling impact on fast-food takeout restaurants, which are not typically equipped with dishwashing facilities.

But for other establishments, the pivot to less waste has been easier. “We’ve been providing proper reusable plates, cups and cutlery for inside eaters and it makes a lot of sense,” said Pelton.

Others see mandating reusable dinnerware as a step in the right direction, but with a caveat.

“I think that the environmental impact of reusable plates would be incredibly beneficial as long as it is holistically examined to determine that the increased use of detergents and sanitizing chemicals is not more disruptive to our local water supply,” said Ryan.

There is also the question of supplying takeout containers for leftovers after a sit-down meal in a restaurant. It is not something that has been brought up.

“It’s going to be weird to charge a customer to take home their leftovers. I really don’t know how they will react to that,” said Van Nes. “So far, nobody from the city has asked us (the hospitality industry) for our input or given us much information. I sure hope they do a better job communicating as they roll this out.”

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