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City staff to update Council on reduction of single-use items

June 22 2017 Presentation to Council on emerging approaches takes place June 27, 2017

Next week, we will present emerging approaches on a strategy to reduce single use items such as disposable cups, plastic and paper shopping bags, foam food packaging, and take-out containers. We are asking for your feedback on the best way to do that and will be extending an invitation to businesses, institutions, and not-for-profits to participate through a consultation paper and roundtable discussions over the summer. 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.

Our Greenest City Action Plan (GCAP) included a key goal and target: create zero waste by reducing solid waste disposed to landfill and incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels. Significant progress has been made towards our zero waste goal and 2020 GCAP target. Looking beyond our 2020 target, as we take additional steps to become a zero waste community by 2040, programming and policy focus is shifting to the more difficult work of addressing problematic waste types and sources.

On February 3, 2016, in support of our Greenest City Action Plan and Zero Waste goal, Council directed staff to investigate and report back on options to reduce the amount of waste generated from single-use items, including:

  • Disposable cups
  • Plastic and paper shopping bags
  • Polystyrene foam food packaging
  • Take-out containers

Despite their convenience, single-use items cost Vancouver taxpayers about $2.5 million per year to collect from public waste bins and to clean up as litter in our parks, streets, and green spaces. They 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 require a significant amount of resources from our planet.

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 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.

These issues have been decades in the making. Developing sustainable approaches to reduce the amount of waste from single-use items will require the participation of all of us. The emerging approaches identified by the City are based on technical research (including an analysis of international approaches and best practices) and initial meetings with members of the public, industry experts, and local leaders.

The City will be seeking input from businesses, institutions, and not-for-profits over the summer and the general public 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

See more about the City's Zero Waste goal or to sign-up for project updates and engagement opportunities.

Zero Waste Vancouver

For more information on previous Council direction on this issue, read the February 2, 2016, Council report PDF file (230 KB) and presentation PDF file (3 MB).