Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples.

Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples.

The great divide: Cowichan municipalities can create single-use plastic bans, regional district can’t

Local governments want regional approach

Moves by the province to allow municipal governments to more easily ban the use of single-use plastics in their jurisdictions are being reviewed with some skepticism by local governments in the Cowichan Valley.

The fact that it’s being left to municipalities to individually implement their own rules around the use of single-use plastics, rather than have regional districts act as an umbrella to implement a unified approach to the issue across each region in the province, is the main reason for the concerns raised by some local politicians.

Last week. the province amended a regulation under the Community Charter to allow local municipal governments, for the first time, to ban single-use plastics, including plastic checkout bags, polystyrene foam containers and plastic utensils, which includes stir sticks.


Previously, municipalities required ministerial approval to implement a plastics ban.

Before the province changed the regulation, bylaws were approved by the John Horgan government to ban single-use plastics in the municipalities of Esquimalt, Nanaimo, Richmond, Rossland, Saanich, Surrey, Tofino, Ucluelet and Victoria.

“Communities across B.C. have made it clear they want to be environmental leaders by taking steps to ban single-use plastics,” said George Heyman, minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

“We will continue to work with all levels of government to protect our land and waterways from plastic pollution and the harm it creates. Local governments wanted the ability to act without delay, and now they have it.”

The mayors of the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan said, up to this point, neither council had discussed it in their meetings because it was a provincial jurisdiction.

But North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said he thinks any new regulations banning the use of single-use plastics in the region should be led by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, instead of having local governments implement their own rules in their jurisdictions.

“There is no point in us going it alone,” Siebring said.

“We need a regional approach to this, so these discussions need to begin at the CVRD.”

Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples agreed, stating that given the proximity of the local governments in the Valley, it makes sense to have the discussion begin at the CVRD.

But Brian Carruthers, CAO at the CVRD, said the change in the province’s regulations is specifically targeted to municipalities, not regional districts.


He said local governments are governed by the Community Charter, while regional districts are governed by the Local Government Act, and the changes to the regulations on plastic bags were made in the Community Charter and not the Local Government Act, which means the CVRD has no authority to implement new regulations on plastic bags at this time.

“We’ve been waiting for a province-wide ban on single-use plastics to be put in place,” he said.

Upon learning that the CVRD has no authority to implement a region-wide ban on single-use plastics, Staples said she’s tired of the piecemeal approach that has been taken by the province on the issue.

“[This approach] just doesn’t work if we want to make real change,” she said.

“This has to be done in a more global way than just one municipality at the time. If the province isn’t going to [ban single-use plastic bags], the least we can do is try to do it region by region.”

Siebring went to visit family in Alberta during the writing of this story, so North Cowichan Coun. Rosalie Sawrie, who is acting mayor in his absence, said in her opinion, if the province was serious about protecting the environment and taking action on climate change, then banning single-use plastics is one of the easier things they could take the lead on instead of downloading another responsibility onto individual municipalities.

Lake Cowichan mayor Bob Day said the issue of banning single-use plastics in the town will likely be discussed at the council table.

a number of the town’s businesses have already decided on their own to ban single-use plastics, including the Country Grocer grocery store, which he figures accounts for up to 80 per cent of the one-use plastics that were being used in the community.

“As a result, single-use plastics are not such a concern here as in many other communities, but there are still some other businesses that are using them so I expect it will be on council’s agenda at a future meeting,” he said.

A statement from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy acknowledged that regional districts have not been given the authority to bansingle-use plastics under the new rules, but said they can encourage municipalities to exercise this new authority while a legal framework is under development for province-wide bans on single-use items, such as plastic shopping bags, takeout containers and other priority items. This means that, in the Cowichan Valley, significant shopping areas in Cobble Hill, Mill Bay, Cowichan Bay and Shawnigan Lake cannot be subject to plastic bag bans.

Since last year, more than 127 tonnes of plastic have been removed from B.C.’s coastline under the Clean Coast, Clean Waters initiative.

It is estimated that in 2019, more than 340,000 tonnes of plastic items and packaging were disposed of in British Columbia.

This equates to more than 65 kilograms of plastic waste land filled per person in one year.


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Lake Cowichan Mayor Bob Day.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Bob Day.