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New Westminster ponders ban on single-use plastic bags and straws

New Westminster wants to see what the province proposes before considering a ban on single-use items.

New Westminster wants to see what the province proposes before considering a ban on single-use items.

On Monday, city council considered a recommendation that would direct staff to explore the implementation of a ban on the use of plastic straws, single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam take-out packaging, and to report back to council on a work plan with actionable steps harmonized to the provincial approach, once the provincial regulatory framework is released.

In February 2018, council passed a resolution directing staff to report back on a strategy for how the city would ban the sale and use of single-use plastic bags and straws. In June 2019, the city’s environmental advisory committee recommended that council prioritize the implementation of that resolution, include single-use Styrofoam take-out packaging in the ban, and create a work plan with actionable steps by the end of 2019.

“Staff believes that creating a strategy and reporting to council is a good first step in addressing single-use items,” said a staff report considered by council Monday. “However, it may be prudent to wait until the province’s regulatory framework is released in late 2019 so that the city may proceed with the best harmonized approach in an efficient manner.”

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said there were a number of presentations made on this topic at the environment committee on this topic, so it’s clearly top of mind for folks.

“The disability community has raised the issue of straws again and again and again,” she said. “I’ve heard from members of that community that they do not feel heard, even though they have been shouting it since the time that this has been contemplated.”

In addition to ensuring that the concerns of the disability community are acknowledged, Nakagawa said she wants the voices of multicultural communities to be heard. While it might seem trite to some people, she said bubble tea is an item that’s very popular in some communities.   

“I don’t want us to go ahead without consulting those businesses that will have impacts on them,” she said. At the end of the day, I obviously believe we need to do what we can to protect the environment.”

Coun. Patrick Johnstone suggested the item should be tabled until the city has a conversation with the province and the Union of B.C. Municipalities

“The province is committed to doing something about this,” he said. “They are going to have a report back in the fall. I think this may be a discussion we may be having at UBCM. … I think it’s appropriate for us to table this conversation, as far as internal action in the city, until those conversations have been had.”

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy suggested the city should also consult with the health sector, saying places like Queen’s Park Care Centre and Royal Columbian Hospital could be impacted by a ban.

New Westminster city council tabled the staff recommendation regarding single-use item reduction, until the provincial process is complete. Council also voted in favour of writing a letter to the provincial government asking that its consultation process include specific efforts to engage with diverse communities, specifically with the disability community.