Vancouver prepares businesses to phase out foam ahead of city-wide ban

Restaurants are now working to phase out foam containers and find compostable alternatives, and the city is providing resources to help. Nadia Stewart reports.​

The City of Vancouver has begun preparing businesses for a foam-free future ahead of a city-wide ban due to begin on New Year’s Day.

The city launched its toolkits for businesses on Wednesday, which gives store owners a clear rundown of what will be accepted and what’s no longer allowed.

Vancouver city council approved the ban last summer as part of its single-use item waste reduction strategy, but staff recommended businesses be given more time to adapt to the change.

Vancouver city staff ask to postpone Styrofoam and plastic straw ban
Vancouver city staff ask to postpone Styrofoam and plastic straw ban

“There’s strong public and business support for the foam ban,” Monica Kosmak, senior project manager in engineering services for the City of Vancouver, said Friday.

“One thing that we heard from businesses was that in order to successfully transition to being foam-free, that they wanted support from the city in terms of education resources. So we’ve done that.”

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The toolkits, which are available in a variety of languages, include a number of alternatives to foam containers and cups that are either recyclable, compostable or reusable.

READ MORE: Vancouver may not see ban on plastic straws, styrofoam containers until next year

Among the options presented are plastic or plastic-lined paper containers and cups, aluminum containers, plates and bowls made out of compressed leaves, paper plates, fibre containers, and ceramic or glass dishes and cups.

Businesses are allowed to go through their existing foam container and cup stock as they switch over to the new products.

Hospitals and care facilities are exempt from the ban in order to address infection and safety concerns. Food charities are also exempt from the ban until Jan. 1, 2021.

City of Vancouver votes to ban single-use plastic straws and Styrofoam cups
City of Vancouver votes to ban single-use plastic straws and Styrofoam cups

The ban does not apply to foam trays used to transport raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or vegetables that require further preparation before eating.

The city says while foam materials can be recycled, they have to be brought to specialized recycling depots because of how they’re constructed.

“Our research shows that only six percent of Vancouver residents are willing to do that,” Kosmak said.

“And so much of it ends up most of it ends up in landfill.”

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READ MORE: Swimming in plastic: How Metro Vancouver handles its own recycling

Kosmak says the alternative materials presented in the business toolkits are much easier to recycle through the city’s household or business recycling programs, like the blue bins.

“That’s why we’re banning foam and looking to restrict all single-use items or many single-use items, especially used for foodware and shopping bags, so that we can foster new behaviors on the road to zero waste,” she said.

Single-use reduction strategy coming

The city is also preparing to present draft bylaw details on a reduction strategy for other single-use items, including plastic bags, utensils and other drink cups, to council in late November.

Council approved a ban on plastic straws along with the foam ban, but voted to delay phasing out straws until April 2020.

Straws will make up part of the larger strategy set to be introduced to council this month.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver wants to know if you want plastic bags to be banned

“There will be some further bans, and there will be other other types of mechanisms for restrictions like by-request bylaws or proposed fees,” Kosmak said.

The city collected public comments through a survey in July that informed the bylaw recommendations.

According to a third-party public opinion survey cited by the city, 86 per cent of Vancouver residents said reducing the use of plastic and paper items like bags and containers is important.

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Vancouver store hands out ’embarrassing’ plastic bags
Vancouver store hands out ’embarrassing’ plastic bags

“Residents have told us loud and clear that they want to reduce waste from single-use items,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a statement.

“The people of Vancouver expect the City to demonstrate leadership when it comes to environmental initiatives, and the elimination of foam take-out containers is a step in that direction.”