The new fees — 25 cents for a cup and 15 cents for paper bags — took effect on Jan. 1 as a way to encourage more environmentally-friendly consumer habits, such as bringing reusable mugs and shopping bags.
“Our initial feedback from the first month has created a lot of anecdotal examples of how it’s not working and we need to dive into those,” said Coun. Rebecca Bligh in an interview.
Bligh brought an “urgent motion” forward to city councillors on Tuesday to direct staff to re-examine the bylaws, which passed unanimously. Staff will report back to the council in eight weeks.
“Particularly around equity issues, tech delivery app incongruencies, loopholes people are getting around so they don’t have to pay the fee, and general effectiveness of the bylaw,” she explained.
Taxpayers had raised concerns that fees collected from the program are pocketed by the businesses who charge them, and there will be no enforcement of municipal expectations that the funds are reinvested in environmentally-friendly initiatives.
Since the bylaws took effect, some coffee shops and fast-food chains have not allowed consumers to bring in reusable mugs.
That hampers the policy’s goals of changing consumer behaviour, and means there’s no way to avoid for those who can’t afford the new fees to avoid them and still get a coffee.
“We didn’t get it right and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that,” said Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, who reached out to Vancouver’s city manager around the first week of rollout to discuss the issues.
On Jan. 12, city staff sent a memo to councillors saying they had been in touch with some of Vancouver’s large quick-service restaurants and fast-food chains about implementing a reusable cup policy, she added, and that if that didn’t happen in short order the bylaws could be amended.
Kirby-Yung said she’s waiting to hear back from city staff after the latest motion, and if the review doesn’t produce “satisfactory” information, then council may have to make some choices about continuing with the bylaw.
The bylaw was originally supposed to take effect in 2020, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that the pandemic is still ongoing, Kirby-Yung said “in hindsight,” delaying it further may have been the right choice.
“Reusable cups have been deemed safe by the Centre for Disease control and they have said that we can use them, but it’s been a lot during COVID, and people are trying to adapt and everyone’s trying to stay safe, so I absolutely hear that.”