‘Incredibly frustrating’: Vancouver small business stuck with banned plastic bags

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Vancouver small business stuck with banned plastic bags
A Vancouver business finds itself stuck with a small trove of green bags, bought long before city council moved to ban plastic bags. Now, they're left with few options. Kristen Robinson reports – Jan 27, 2022

In the back room of Granville Island’s award-winning Liberty Distillery, two boxes of now-outlawed plastic packaging are taking up shelf space.

The 2,400 biodegradable bags are just a small fraction of the 20,000 units owner Lisa Simpson purchased in January 2018 – 22 months before the city of Vancouver’s single-use bylaw was adopted.

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” Simpson told Global News.

Plastic bags are now banned and the city said there’s no grace period for using up existing stock as it would be unfair to businesses which were able to run down their inventory in time.

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Questions raised about Vancouver’s single use plastics program

Biodegradables are also not accepted in Vancouver’s green bin organics program, and Simpson said she doesn’t know what to do with her remaining 16,800 bags – the majority of which are sitting in her supplier’s warehouse.

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“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Simpson.

“Knowing that instead of running down an inventory balance that’s still providing use to a consumer, we’re just going to mass dump I don’t know where — an abyss?”

Independent City Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said she feels for small business owners like Simpson, and suggested the best option may be to give leftover bags to charities or non-profits that will accept them and make them available to low-income residents for other uses such as garbage bin liners.

“There’s no point in disposing of inventory,” said Kirby-Yung.

“Because the intent of the bylaw is obviously to reduce waste. Once something’s already been produced, it makes a lot of sense to just use it up.”

Simpson said she’s facing a $3,000 loss on the cost of the bags, at a time when she’s poured everything in to her small business during two years of COVID-19, fewer customers and tourists, tariffs and transportation issues.

“Our costs are increasing every day by no less than 20 per cent,” she said.

Simpson ordered a single-use toolkit from the city to learn more about her options, and said she was surprised at the volume of paper that arrived by mail the next day.

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A package one-inch thick with many duplicates in the same language stated that extra plastic shopping bags should be donated to charity as Kirby-Yung suggested, or sold to businesses outside of Vancouver.

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“I don’t understand why selling to another municipality makes sense if we’re talking about the environment,” Simpson said.

You’ve got to go back to common sense and reasonableness,” Kirby-Yung said.

“It just doesn’t make sense … to sell her bags to another municipality when they have her brand on them.”

Global News offered the city of Vancouver an opportunity to have a spokesperson answer questions on-camera – but were told that its zero waste senior project manager was “under a big capacity crunch this week” and unable to do an interview.

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The city would not put anyone else up.

Meantime, Simpson has purchased the permitted 40 per cent recycled-content paper bags that businesses are required to sell to customers for a minimum fee of $0.15 per bag.

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Because paper takes up more space, she can only order 250 bags at a time and is unable to obtain the same volume discount plastic afforded, at $0.17 per unit.

Simpson said she’s paying $0.48 per unit for paper bags and charging her customers $0.25 for each bag.

“I am losing money on every single bag,” she told Global News.

Fortunately, most distillery customers bring reusable bags when purchasing spirits, she said.

For now, Simpson is putting her trust in compliance as she navigates the extra baggage surrounding the single-use bylaw.


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