Victoria city staff recommend 10-cent bag levy to reduce waste

Collected fees could be reinvested in improving and reducing business packaging, says a staff report to be considered by councillors this week.

Staff recommend the city hold meetings with businesses and waste-management stakeholders before the end of next month and, based on the feedback, work with local businesses and retailers to promote the voluntary fee structure. Another recommendation is to help develop a working group to improve management of single-use retail bags, single-use beverage containers, food packaging and plastic film products.

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City staff say promoting a voluntary fee structure would be “an effective first step to incentivize local retailers and consumers to adopt more sustainable packaging decisions.”

But Gillian Montgomery of the environmental group Surfrider Foundation, which has been lobbying for an outright ban on single-use plastic bags, was surprised and disappointed at the staff recommendation.

“A voluntary 10 cents is very weak,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know how that would go over with local businesses.

Surfrider members conduct monthly cleanups of Island beaches, and plastic bags are one of the main items they pick up.

“I just think it’s time [for a ban]. We have 7,000 signatures from Victoria residents that say we want the ban. I think that they should be listened to,” she said.

The city staff report estimates 17 million plastic bags are used annually by city residents. Of those bags, an estimated 160,000 to 330,000 end up in the landfill.

Montgomery noted that other jurisdictions have enacted bans that seem to be working well, including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco.

“We’re in that same region, so I think that it really makes sense that we would take those into account and get on the page as those other cities … all of those other cities that people liken Victoria to,” she said

Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who with Coun. Ben Isitt brought forward an initiative asking staff to investigate a ban, also would like to see something stronger than a voluntary levy.

“It doesn’t go far enough. There are many forward-thinking businesses in our community that are already instituting a fee for bags or are only going with reusable bags,” Loveday said.

“Personally, I’ve heard from many residents that they’re ready to see a ban on single-use plastic bags, and I think the city should follow the lead of cities and states and countries around the world that have already taken that step.”

The city staff report says that while a ban would be relatively easy to implement and enforce, it would reduce consumer choice, wouldn’t address wider sustainability issues related to packaging and could result in transmission of germs via reusable bags.

A number of North American cities have tried either bans or fees for single-use bags, the report says.

“The city of Napa, California, does advertise that bag bans and fees on paper bags have resulted in 95 per cent reduction in plastic bags, 30 per cent reduction in paper bags and 60 per cent reduction in marine litter one year after adoption,” the report says.

It notes that Boulder, Colorado, achieved a 68 per cent reduction in six months after introducing a 10-cent fee on both paper and plastic bags in 2013.

And Ireland saw a 90 per cent reduction in bag usage in the first year after introducing a plastic bag tax in 2002.

Montgomery said if the city is to go with a levy, it should follow Ireland’s lead and impose a mandatory fee much higher than 10 cents.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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