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City invites participation in creating a made-in-Vancouver strategy to reduce use of single use items

June 27 2017

“Vancouver is on track to be the greenest city in the world by 2020, and taking these next steps to reduce coffee cups, Styrofoam and plastic bags from our landfills will take our environmental leadership to the next level,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The City of Vancouver is inviting residents, local businesses, and organizations to take part in the development of a single-use item reduction strategy to reduce waste from items such as disposable cups, plastic and paper shopping bags, foam food packaging and take-out containers.

Quote from the mayor

“Vancouver is on track to be the greenest city in the world by 2020, and taking these next steps to reduce coffee cups, Styrofoam, and plastic bags from our landfills will take our environmental leadership to the next level,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Ultimately, a made-in-Vancouver solution to divert the millions of plastic bags, coffee cups, and Styrofoam from garbage bins and landfills can deliver a balanced approach that works for residents and businesses alike. I encourage every Vancouverite to have their say in how we can reduce waste from single-use items.”

A complex issue

Single-use items cost Vancouver taxpayers about $2.5 million a year to collect from public waste bins and to clean up as litter in our parks, streets, and green spaces.

While the City has legislative authority related to the distribution, recycling, and disposal of single use items, it is seeking to create a made-in-Vancouver solution in collaboration with local residents, businesses, and organizations in order to avoid any unintended consequences.

“Cities all over the world are grappling with the issue of litter and increasing waste from single-use items. These are often not reused or recycled, take up valuable space in our landfill, have a lasting impact on our environment long after their short use, and they require a significant amount of resources,” says Albert Shamess, director of Zero Waste and Resource Recovery for the City of Vancouver. “Reducing waste from single-use items is complex. It involves varying levels of behaviour change, an evolution of social norms, and is beyond the ability of any one organization.”

Reusable containers pilot

Over the summer, the City will be partnering with Vancouver Coastal Health to launch a pilot where restaurants and retailers can fill orders in reusable containers brought by customers. Similar container share programs exist in New York City, Portland, and San Francisco (such as GO Box) and are all examples of innovative actions that are helping to reduce waste from single-use items.

“Vancouver Coastal Health is pleased to be a partner in the shift towards a zero waste community,” says Claudia Kurzac, Manager of Health Protection, Environmental Health, VCH.  “We want to ensure the health and safety of customers is protected and food is handled in a safe manner.”

Provide your feedback

Over the summer, businesses, institutions, and not-for-profits are invited to provide their input and help shape the strategy through a consultation paper and roundtable discussions. A Talk Vancouver survey for the general public will be released in September to help create a sustainable made-in-Vancouver solution that reduces waste from single-use items, works locally, and could be adopted by other communities as we all work towards zero waste.

Learn more and sign up for upcoming engagement opportunities

Current state of single-use item waste in Vancouver

Disposable cups and take-out containers

  • Every week, 2.6 million coffee cups (polycoat paper cups) are thrown in the trash in Vancouver.
  • This summer, another 34 million coffee cups will be disposed to landfill, plus unknown amounts that will end up as litter in our parks, streets and green spaces.
  • Disposable cups are a significant contributor of litter in Vancouver. They account for 22% of all large litter found on Vancouver streets.
  • Nearly 50% of all items collected in public waste bins are disposable cups and take-out containers.

 Plastic shopping bags

  • Every week, an estimated 2 million plastic shopping bags are thrown in the garbage in Vancouver.
  • Plastic bags account for 3% of litter found in local shoreline cleanups plus unknown amounts that end up in our ocean and local waterways. Scientists predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Polystyrene foam

  • Small foam pieces are common items found during Vancouver shoreline cleanups. Given the nature of this material and how easily it breaks apart, it is often dispersed widely by wind and water in the environment, ending up in our ocean and local waterways. It is very difficult to clean up.

View the presentation to council PDF file (3.45 MB)

Read the Council report PDF file (47 KB)