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Delta hopes for changes to fast food paper bag fee

The city had to follow provincial requirements to pass a single-use bylaw
Delta’s bylaw includes fees for providing customers with recycled paper bags ($0.25) or reusable bags ($2) at the checkout.

People are confused and understandably upset about now having to pay a fee for fast food paper bags, Delta council agreed during its discussion on the city’s plastic bags and single-use items bylaw this week.

At its meeting on Monday, council voted in favour of a staff recommendation to begin enforcement of the bylaw with education continuing to be the primary approach when it comes to gaining business compliance.

Staff noted only “a very small minority” of businesses have not been complying with the bylaw, which was passed in December 2021 and bans single-use plastic bags, with a few exceptions.

Polystyrene for prepared food, such as foam plates, clamshell containers, bowls and cups, are also banned.

The bylaw also mandates a minimum 25 cent charge for paper shopping bags and $2 fee for reusable bags.

After a provincially-mandated six-month transition period, the bylaw came into effect on June 6, 2022. Businesses were provided with an additional six months to transition prior to enforcement.

Various B.C. municipalities have also implemented their own bylaws, while a federal government ban on the manufacture and import for sale of single-use plastics took effect in late 2022.

Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver, which does not have the authority to regulate the sale or distribution of single-use items, has already requested the provincial government come up with a single-use strategy and a harmonized approach for cities.

Coun. Alicia Guichon said she’s heard plenty of push back from people angry about being charged for food take-out paper bags, since they never paid for them before and, while not ideal, are considered an alternative to plastic bags.

“Now that people are being charged for that paper bag out the window, it’s one of those things that, when you’re in-person in the grocery store you could have that conversation and use a reusable bag to bag your own groceries. It’s a little bit different with a fast food drive-thru and I know people are having a bit of confusion and wonder if they can ask not to have a bag,” she said.

Guichon added while the bylaw states businesses charge for paper bags, there is confusion that it is a tax by the city. In fact, the business keeps that revenue.

Mel Cheesman, director of corporate services, explained those fees come directly from a provincial ministerial order under the Community Charter, which governs the implementation of local single-use bylaws.

It could be that provincial legislation is still to come and there could be amendments when it comes to businesses that have always given out paper bags, noted Cheesman, adding Delta staff are working with the regional district on the matter.

Saying the city has had to follow the ministerial order to have a bylaw, Coun. Dylan Kruger agreed that there is room for change, since retailers that had previously handed out plastic bags had a cost to make the switch to paper.

“I’ve seen some similar discussion and I think it is very different in the fast food context. The way it was explained to me, other businesses, retail clothing stores for example switching to paper bags, there is a cost to that, there is a real material cost. That 25 cents helps subsidize the business to make that transition. It is very different for a fast food restaurant that has always operated that way,” he said. “We are following the provincial requirement, but is there room for discussion in the future about different standards when it comes to fast food or the more retail shopping component?”

Coun. Daniel Boisvert said people are not happy about the charge at eateries, fees that go right back to boost a restaurant’s bottom line, and agreed there is room for improvement.