The Checkout Bag Bylaw was given initial approval by Victoria city council Thursday evening. (News files)

Plastic checkout bag ban to take effect in Victoria next summer

Merchants may still provide free bags for certain grocery and retail items

Plastic bags are on their way out, after city council approved a bylaw banning their distribution by Victoria merchants.

The Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw, affecting plastic and other single-use bags, passed first, second and third readings Thursday evening. Businesses will be restricted from charging for or providing free plastic bags, except in specific situations. Retailers must first ask customers if they need a bag, and then charge 15 cents for a paper bag, or $1 for a reusable bag.

Once the bylaw receives final approval, it will be put into effect in July 2018.

RELATED: Victoria moves for regional plastic bag ban

Merchants will still be allowed to offer small paper and other bags free for packaging live fish, bulk food, small hardware items, frozen foods, flowers and potted plants, prepared foods and bakery goods. Other items in this category include prescriptions, laundry and dry cleaning, newspapers or other delivered print material, and linens or bedding that cannot fit in a reusable bag.

Businesses can be fined between $100 and $1,000 while individuals can be fined from $50 to $500 for non-compliance.

Fraser Work, director of engineering, said told councillors Thursday afternoon that the City had been receiving feedback from retailers and the community about the draft bylaw. The fees proposed for the paper and reusable bags were brought up frequently, he said.

“There was a lot of concern that the City would be penalizing an individual at the checkout counter; that is not the intent of the bylaw,” Work said. “If we are giving away free bags, they will much more likely become waste rather than having a value that is set in financial terms.”

Coun. Geoff Young said the speed of implementing these laws and enforcement could be a problem.

“We want to change behaviour; sometimes regulation is the way to do it,” he said. “This is going to be more difficult than we think it is. I think there will be a longer period of public education, public acceptance. I think we may find that there are decisions we want to revisit.”

RELATED: Oak Bay not moving forward with plastic bag ban

Coun. Marianne Alto supported the bylaw, but said the proposed reusable bag fee could be too high. After the first year at $1, reusable bags would be mandated to increase to $2.

“It’s problematic for anyone … who doesn’t have the capacity to spring for $2 every time they need a reusable bag,” she said. “I just want to flag that; to me, it feels too punitive.”

Victoria doesn’t want to tackle this issue alone, and previously sent a letter to the province, the Capital Regional District and neighbouring municipalities hoping for some consistency and regional support. Oak Bay, Saanich, Central Saanich, and Nanaimo have been looking at similar bans.

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