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British Columbia sets new single-use plastic regulations

A squished pile of plastics
Since the province launched the CleanBC Action Plan in 2019, 21 municipalities have established bylaws to limit single-use plastics in their communities. Pixabay

British Columbia will expand its efforts to tackle hard-to-recycle single-use plastic items. These new efforts come from a new provincial regulation.

The Single-Use and Plastic Waste Prevention regulation will cover shopping bags, disposable food service accessories, oxo-degradable plastics, and food service packaging made of polystyrene foam, PVC, PVDC, and compostable or biodegradable plastics.

"As part of our government's CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, the regulation strengthens our efforts to prevent plastic waste and pollution, and ensure a better future for the people of B.C. through a healthier environment," said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. "Focusing on hard-to-recycle single-use and plastic items will help move B.C. to a circular economy where waste and pollution are eliminated, products and materials are kept in the economy through reuse, and natural systems are regenerated."

These new requirements will come into effect in December 2023, giving six months to educate the public and businesses about the new requirements. These six months will also give businesses enough time to use up existing inventory.

"I am pleased to see our government respond to public calls for further action on plastic waste and pollution," said Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development, and Innovation, and MLA for Vancouver-False Creek. "The new regulation complements and expands on provincial, municipal and federal government actions on plastics by further reducing waste and promoting the use of reusable items."

Since the province launched the CleanBC Action Plan in 2019, 21 municipalities have established bylaws to limit single-use plastics in their communities.

The federal government is also regulating single-use plastics that are harmful to the environment. In December 2022, the manufacturing and importing of six plastic items were prohibited (plastic checkout bags, drinking straws, cutlery, stir sticks, ring carriers, and food-service ware made from plastics). Sales of these items will be banned as of Dec. 20, 2023.

B.C.'s regulation improves on these measures to limit the use of many single-use items, promote reusables and eliminate the use of additional items. Over their life cycle, reusable products generally produce fewer emissions, consume less water, and decrease waste, litter, and pollution compared to disposable alternatives.

"Addressing climate change requires individual and collective action," said Joan Phillip, MLA-elect for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. "Through our government's waste-reduction policies and programs, we are advancing B.C.'s climate action goals and ensuring a better future for the next generation." 

Other actions to address plastic waste and pollution include:

  • Amending a regulation to enable local governments to ban plastic shopping bags and certain single-use plastics;
  • Adding milk and milk-substitute beverage containers to B.C.'s deposit-refund system to capture the millions of containers from restaurants, schools, and offices without a dedicated recycling system;
  • Adding all residential single-use and packaging-like products to B.C.'s recycling stream;
  • Investing nearly $40 million in the CleanBC Plastics Action Fund, which supports B.C.-based innovators to reduce plastic waste, reuse items, and include more recycled material in the manufacturing of products;
  • Supporting a large shoreline cleanup through Clean Coast, Clean Waters, with more than 1,500 tonnes of marine debris removed to date, and more than 60 percent of shoreline material reused/recycled; and
  • Phasing in the recycling of new products, such as electric vehicle batteries, mattresses, compressed canisters, and medical sharps over the next four years under the Extended Producer Responsibility Five-Year Plan.

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