Stacks of paper coffee cups.

Impacts on low-income residents drove the Vancouver, British Columbia city council to rethink its fee on single-use cups. | yy Apartment/Shutterstock

A year after it went into effect, Vancouver, British Columbia is moving to end its 25-cent fee on single-use coffee cups. 

Vancouver city councilors on Feb. 14 presented a motion to repeal the fee by June 1. It was unanimously passed to the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities for further discussion. 

The fee, which was introduced in January 2022, allowed the businesses to keep the quarter charge and encouraged them to invest it into reusable alternatives. 

Councillor Rebecca Bligh, who brought the motion forward, said the policy hasn’t achieved its objectives of reducing waste and instead has been impacting the most vulnerable. 

Her motion read that in the days after the fee went into effect, “numerous unintended consequences and publicly-identified concerns became apparent almost immediately and were widely reported in the media and on social media. Not the least of these were the equity impacts that the new fee was having on the most vulnerable persons in our community.” 

On Jan. 25, the council asked staff to report back by March on the effectiveness of the fee and possible improvements. 

Staff recommended exempting free drinks, such as from gift cards or free drink coupons, from the fee and developing low-barrier cup-share programs for people experiencing poverty or living with low incomes. 

Staff also recommended bylaw amendments that require food vendors to accept a customer’s reusable cup for in-store orders.

“The ongoing experience and feedback regarding the City’s $0.25 single-use beverage cup fee clearly indicates that the policy has not been effective in accomplishing its intended objectives,” the motion stated. 

The motion also pointed out that single-use beverage cups are recyclable in Vancouver and there had been several previous pilot programs to reduce single-cup use, such as a Return-It project with Tim Hortons and Starbucks.

“The City remains committed to reducing waste and litter from single-use items as we work toward becoming a zero waste community by 2040, including reducing the use of single-use beverage cups that otherwise end up in the landfill as well as encouraging people to switch to reusable cups as an alternative,” the motion noted, but “given the overwhelmingly clear, unambiguous evidence” that the fee is not working, “it is incumbent upon Council to explore other policy options and pathways.” 

Under the motion, staff are directed to report other policy recommendations and pathways by the fourth quarter of 2023.

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