It’s been a roundabout route, but Salmon Arm council is back to the process of adopting a bylaw to prohibit single-use plastic shopping bags in the city.
“Who would have thought that passing a bylaw to ban single use plastic bags could have so many turns and curves,” Mayor Alan Harrison remarked at the Oct. 12 council meeting.
Following a consultation process with businesses and the public in early 2019, council adopted a ‘checkout bag regulation bylaw’ in June 2019.
However, a month later, the BC Court of Appeal quashed the City of Victoria’s single-use plastics bylaw, ruling that municipalities must receive approval from the provincial environment ministry before adopting such a bylaw. Salmon Arm did not get ministerial approval so its bylaw, in turn, was also not enforceable. However, many businesses in the city continued to offer alternatives to single-use check-out bags and citizens remained onboard.
Then COVID-19 emerged and sparked concern about reusable bags. However, the BC Centre for Disease Control “has confirmed that COVID-19 transmission from handling reusable containers such as grocery bags has not been documented and it is safe to continue to use reusable bags as well,” city staff reported.
Rules changed again when, in July 2021, the province amended the Community Charter to allow local governments to ban single-use plastics, including plastic checkout bags, without ministry approval.
Harrison noted that Salmon Arm has been a leader in banning single-use plastic bags and, as a result of its actions and those of other local governments, the province gave the municipalities the power to regulate single-use plastics.
City staff have since worked with the Ministry of Environment to ensure the city’s latest bylaw meets the requirements for local government.
The new bylaw is expected to receive final reading in January 2022 and then not come into full effect until July 1, 2022, in order to give businesses a transition period to use up their supply of plastic bags and find reusable bag options.
After third reading, city staff say they will provide information and support, without fines, as businesses get acquainted with the new bylaw.
“I think our businesses and our retailers are ready. I think they’re ready to resume the environmental measures and that’s something that everybody can do. All of us can do this little thing,” Harrison said.
He also termed the six-month lead time before full enforcement of the bylaw ‘generous,’ as it will allow the community time to successfully restart the initiative.
“It’s been a long and bumpy road,” is how Coun. Sylvia Lindgren described the process, adding she would be in favour of a shorter timeline as she thinks people are ready. However, she said she would support the bylaw – as did other councillors.
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