Several BC communities have or will be introducing legislation this year to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. Black Press file photo

Bylaw banning plastic bags introduced to Rossland council

Fines up to $100 for businesses offering plastic bags at check-out

Paper or plastic?

That question could soon be an expensive one for Rossland businesses.

The City of Rossland has given first reading to a bylaw that would ban store owners from giving out plastic bags to customers at check-out.

The bylaw was introduced at council on Monday night.

“Due to the risks single-use plastics pose to municipal and regional waste operations, landfill, and litter, the magnitude of single-use plastic bag waste remains a concern for many municipalities including the City of Rossland,” staff wrote in a briefing note to council.

“While provincial and regional recycling programs target diverting plastic bags from landfills, it remains clear that the free provision of single-use materials represents a systemic business/consumer transaction that privileges short-term convenience over long-term sustainability.”

The bylaw sets out a series of fines and other consequences for businesses — or individuals — handing out plastic bags at checkout.

A business owner has to follow a strict procedure not to fall afoul of the new law: they must first ask the customer if they need a bag, then offer a paper or re-usable bag, then charge for that bag.

Providing a check-out bag except as allowed in the bylaw, providing a bag when the customer didn’t want one, not charging for a reusable bag, or refusing to use a customer’s reusable bag, all carry a $100 fine per offence. It’s about half that for individuals violating the bylaw.

There are a few exceptions to the rules. Plastic bags used in grocery stores for nuts, candy or bulk foods, or in hardware stores for nails and bolts, are allowed; so is plastic used to wrap frozen fish or meat, flowers, baked goods or pharmacy drugs. You can also use plastic to transport live fish, wrap laundry from the drycleaner’s, or to protect larger items like bedding, or newspapers from getting wet.

Customers who bring in old plastic bags can also re-use them at check-out time as well.

Businesses can be charged up to $10,000 for repeated violations of the bylaw, individuals up to $500.

Rossland wouldn’t be the first jurisdiction to ban single-use plastics like bags. Staff noted Vancouver, Victoria and Tofino and Salmon Arm among B.C. municipalities that have passed or are passing similar laws.

However, the staff report attached to the bylaw did provide some cautions to councillors.

It notes council had not set aside money for an educational or awareness campaign to build up public buy-in for a plastic bag ban. It also frets that the consumer could see increased costs due to having to use reusable bags, and perhaps prompting them to shop outside the jurisdiction.

On the plus side, enforcement of the new bylaw is not seen as being a big expense.

“Staff research of communities that have successfully transitioned to this type of legislation indicate that these communities do not actively enforce or have implemented a phased-in approach,” it says, “and instead focus on partnering and communications to raise awareness that delivers the required compliance.”

It suggests the city take several steps if the bylaw should be passed, including: “shift business practices and societal norms to support lasting behaviour change, create a level playing field for businesses, address the needs of small businesses, collaborate on implementation, provide support with the transition, and mitigate unintended consequences.”

“We want to move slowly with this, get lots of public comment and input and build support,” says Mayor Kathy Moore. “We want to bring in the business community as well into the discussion. Awareness and education is an important part of making this a successful initiative.”

Council went ahead and passed first reading on Monday night. The bylaw will go for final approval after extensive public consultations, she says.

Moore said there was a lot of interest on council on extending the ban further to include other single-use plastics, like drinking straws and stir-sticks.

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