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Vancouver says no more foam food containers

A ban will take place in the new year, followed by crackdowns on straws and grocery bags.

The city of Vancouver has announced a ban on all disposable cups and takeout food containers made of foam. The ban, which will take effect on January 1, 2020, applies to all restaurants, grocery stores, food courts, and special events, and affects prepared foods that are consumed on the premises and packaged as takeout or leftovers. This is exactly one year after New York City's controversial foam ban went into effect.

From the city website,

“The foam ban applies to all white and coloured polystyrene foam cups and foam take-out containers that are used for serving prepared food or beverages, including but not limited to plates, cups, bowls, trays, cartons, and hinged (‘clamshell') or lidded containers.”

The ban could affect a broad range of foods, including “soups, stews, curries, sushi, fried food, sauces, salads, deli foods, or sliced veggies meant to be eaten without further cooking.”

This foam ban is just one of the actions Vancouver is taking to reduce single-use item waste in support of its zero-waste goal for 2040. Other actions include banning plastic and compostable plastic straws by next April, offering only bendable ones to meet accessibility requirements and allowing a year's grace period for bubble tea sellers to find alternatives; handing out single-use cutlery only upon request; and banning all plastic grocery bags by January 2021, including compostable ones.

This is the first city apart from San Francisco that I've heard of cracking down on compostable plastics, and it makes me very happy. Numerous studies have shown that compostable and biodegradable plastics are not a viable solution to the plastics pollution problem, that they fail to break down in the environment and still pose a real threat to wildlife. And yet, many locales – such as the island of Capri with its recent single-use plastic ban – still allow them. Vancouver is wise to ban them at the same time as conventional plastics, which will encourage the kinds of broader behavioral changes that need to occur.

The city offers a list of alternatives on its website, encouraging businesses to communicate with each other to participate in group buying to reduce the cost of new packaging. It suggests embracing new practices that use fewer containers:

“For example, you can ask your dine-in customers if they’d like to have their leftovers packaged in as few single-use containers as possible, rather than packaging leftover dishes separately. You can also encourage your dine-in customers to bring their own reusable containers for taking home any leftovers.”

This is happy news that, hopefully, does not meet with too much resistance. The city doesn't seem worried. Mayor Kennedy Stewart said these bylaws passed by city council “balance public demand for action on disposable items with the needs of those with disabilities and the business community,” so there appears to be support for them. Well done, Vancouver.

A ban will take place in the new year, followed by crackdowns on straws and grocery bags.