A bylaw prohibiting Sidney businesses from providing plastic checkout bags, plastic straws, plastic utensils (including stir sticks), and foam service ware could come into effect as early as Jan. 1, 2023.
Councillors read the proposed bylaw three times Monday with final adoption scheduled later. Staff will also bring forward amendments to Sidney’s municipal ticket information bylaw prior to the prohibition coming into effect.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said during Monday’s debate that more than half of the population in Greater Victoria is already used to existing bylaws in Victoria, Saanich and Esquimalt.
“A lot of businesses in Sidney are actually waiting for this because they want to be responsible,” he said. “It’s pretty challenging for an individual business to implement something like this and this is an approach consistent with (the Victoria and Saanich) bylaw.”
Sidney council first considered the issue in October 2019, eventually deferring any decision until after municipalities had received the necessary authority from the provincial government in the wake of legal challenges to the historic bylaw in Victoria. The provincial government allowed municipalities to ban single-use plastics in July 2021 and staff have subsequently reviewed provincial regulations and other municipal bylaws before crafting the bylaw now awaiting adoption.
It underwent a small but significant change in wording Monday with council prohibiting plastic utensils outright following a proposed amendment by Coun. Scott Garnett. The initial draft said business owners may only provide single-use plastic utensils if customers ask for them. The revised wording means that business owners cannot provide them. Couns. Sara Duncan and Chad Rintoul voted against the amendment, while highly supportive of the bylaw.
A second amendment to remove an exemption for linens, bedding or similar large items not easily fit into reusable bags failed.
While the bylaw will remove plastic checkout bags from local grocery stores, it would not prevent them from selling plastic utensils, a point made by Coun. Barbara Fallot, who like Coun. Garnett expressed concerns that the bylaw would have too many exemptions and not go far enough.
“A single-use plastics bylaw is only (making) a dent,” said Duncan in acknowledging concerns by her colleagues. “In terms of climate action, it is essentially a show. We do it because we can and it’s one thing that we can do and we do as much as is in our power. We can’t control what you can buy in the grocery store, but we can control other aspects of what they use and what retailers and restaurants use.”
The municipality said in a press release that paper bags and reusable bags may be offered as an alternative to plastic bags for a minimum fee of 25 cents for paper bags and $2 for reusable bags consistent with fees in Saanich and Victoria. “Some exemptions would be included in the bylaw, including the provision of straws for people with accessibility needs,” it reads.
Sidney said the bylaw aims to reduce the creation of waste from single-use items and reduce plastic litter, which impacts sewers, streets, parks, beaches, and waterways in the municipality and beyond.
While staff said bylaw enforcement will first work toward voluntary compliance, the bylaw also includes a system of escalating fines.
The first offence comes with a fine of $130, the second would trigger a $260 fine with subsequent recurrences costing $360 and discounts if paid within 30 days.
Looking around the Saanich Peninsula, Britt Burnham, Central Saanich’s manager of community services, said the municipality is anticipating strategies from the provincial and federal governments currently under development. “Locally, many businesses have phased out single-use plastic,” she said.
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