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‘We didn’t get it right’: City of Vancouver to revisit new single-use cup fees

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver to revisit single-use cup fee' City of Vancouver to revisit single-use cup fee
On January 1st, the city of Vancouver became the first municipality in Canada to implement a single-use cup fee. Less than one month into the new bylaw, the council has unanimously voted to have staff revisit the 25 cent fee businesses must charge customers for disposable cups. Andrea Macpherson reports – Jan 27, 2022

Less than one month after the bylaws took effect, the City of Vancouver is reviewing its controversial new fee for single-use cups and paper bags.

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.

Read more: ‘Enormous difference’: Concern about impact of Vancouver’s new single-use fee on homeless

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.

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“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.

“$1.25 or $1.50 on a transaction for drive-thru or takeout for a family of four might not seem like a lot of money per transaction,” she said, “but when these multinational companies are doing thousands of transactions a day and [there’s] no option for people to bring their own reusable cups or bags — yeah, it’s a huge windfall actually for some of these much larger chains.”
Click to play video: 'Is the City of Vancouver’s single-use cup fee a cash grab?' Is the City of Vancouver’s single-use cup fee a cash grab?
Is the City of Vancouver’s single-use cup fee a cash grab? – Jan 10, 2022

Since the bylaws took effect, some coffee shops and fast-food chains have not allowed consumers to bring in reusable mugs.

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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.

Read more: ‘It’s as good as new’: Vancouver businesses adopt reusable cup-share programs to reduce waste

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.”

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