Vancouver disposable cup fees to be axed by summer, says mayor

Disposable cup fees could soon be headed for the garbage bin in Vancouver.

Ken Sim and members of his ABC Vancouver slate, which hold the majority of seats on city council, have voiced intentions to axe the city’s cup bylaw that went into effect last year.

“What we’ve heard from the business community, and residents, is the cup fee just ain’t working,” said Sim at his State of the City address on Tuesday. “That it’s punitive, and that’s why we aim to get rid of the cup fee by the summer.”

Coun. Rebecca Bligh, also a member of ABC, voiced her intentions to put forward the motion to rescind the bylaw, saying she’s unconvinced it’s curbed consumer behaviour while at the same time it’s cost residents millions of dollars.

“I don’t think they are that inspired to change behaviour in a top-down stick approach to government and policy,” she said. “I think, generally speaking, education works.”

The cup bylaw was passed by the previous city council as a way to prevent millions of disposable cups from entering Vancouver landfills each year. Businesses are compelled to charge a 25-cent fee for disposable cups.

The fees are collected by and stay with the businesses. Revenue from these fees is not remitted to the City as the city is not explicitly authorized to collect a sales tax.

The City encourages food vendors to use the fees to invest in reusable alternatives for single-use items, and cover the cost of complying with the by-law, like software updates, and training staff.

A patron holds an iced beverage at a Starbucks coffee store in Pasadena, Calif., 2013. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

The Retail Council of Canada has been critical of the fees from the start. B.C. director of government relations Greg Wilson said adjustments to comply have been costly for some businesses.

“Critically, for small businesses emerging from the troubles of the pandemic, this has been a tough time,” he told CBC News. “The unfortunate thing is this bylaw has resulted in an amount of resentment, and I don’t think that resentment has been helpful in reducing the number of cups use.”

Both Bligh and Wilson suggest programs that include deposits on cups, similar to cans and bottles, could be introduced to curb use and recycle the material.

Environmental concerns

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it’s in the early early stages of collecting and analyzing cup data and does not have any results to share on how effective the policy has been.

It says it needs at least a few years’ worth of data in order to determine the effectiveness of the cup by-law. 

Green councillor Pete Fry — who was on the council that passed the bylaw — said he expects city data to be released over the next few months and thinks council should wait to see results before making any promises to rescind the bylaw.

“I would hope that they would respect the staff process to allow them to report back,” said Fry. “I know the report’s coming in a matter of months.”

As many as 82 million single-use cups were thrown out in Vancouver in 2018, which is the baseline from which the bylaw aims to curb downward.

“We know that singe-use items are choking our landfills, are chocking our recycling systems, our incinerators,” he said.

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