Course:CONS200/2023/Pros and Cons of BC's Plastic Ban to Reduce the Impacts of Single-Use Plastics on the Environment

From UBC Wiki

The BC federal government has created a plan to ban six types of single-use plastics in effort to reduce the negative impacts of plastic on the environment. Single-use plastics can be defined as products that "are used once, or for a short period of time, before being thrown away. The impacts of this plastic waste on the environment and our health are global and can be drastic. Single-use plastic products are more likely to end up in our seas than reusable options."[1] Thus, many municipalities in BC have already begun taking action on banning single-use plastics by having their bylaws approved by the Province. The adoption of these plastic bans come with numerous pros and cons. For instance, the most evident benefit of a single-use plastic ban is the reduction of plastic that pollutes our waters and lands. This helps mitigate the current global plastic pollution crisis, in which “more than 380 million tonnes of plastic [worldwide are produced] each year."[2] On the contrary, the ban on plastic items has negative impacts on businesses who rely on those affordable, convenient, and cheap items. As well, there are life-cycle studies that find that single-use plastics have better environmental profiles than alternative products, which may be a significant concern for the effectiveness of BC's plastic ban. Overall, BC efforts in taking initiative to combat plastic pollution is admirable but BC must consider the effectiveness and shortfalls of their proposal.

Impacts of Single-Use Plastics on the Environment

Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution in the marine system.

Plastics are toxic in all forms, textures, and stages of their life cycles. More than 170 chemicals that are carcinogenic or neurotoxic are released during the fracking process alone when fossil fuels are extracted to manufacture plastic.[3] These fuels are refined into plastic pellets, which release known bone marrow toxins including benzene. Up to 80% of the bulk of plastic products is made up of harmful compounds.[3] Among them include heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, and carcinogens.[3] Many harmful compounds may be released into the air, water, and soil of the environment when plastics are disposed of by ways including combustion, landfilling, chemical recycling, dumping, or disposal methods such as building plastic roads or houses.[3] This may result in both plastic pollution and severe harm to the planet's many ecosystems. The marine system can serve as a good illustration. When plastic invades water systems by dumping, marine systems face enormous challenges. Plastic debris, for instance, is the most evident consequence of dumping, with the most visible effects being the unintentional ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement of hundreds of marine species.[4] Marine animals such as seabirds, whales, fish and sea turtles mistake plastic debris for prey, and consequently, large quantities of plastic debris are accidentally ingested. Since the animals' stomachs are filled with plastic, they are unable to feed and most of them die of starvation. On the other hand, marine lives also suffer from bodily injuries caused by plastic waste, such as animals' necks and bodies tightly wrapped in discarded fishing nets. The lifespan of a large number of marine wildlife is reduced, thus threatening marine biodiversity and food webs.[4] In the long term, the Earth's biodiversity will be drastically reduced, making it impossible to maintain the Earth's environment in a healthy and sustainable state. This theory also applies to terrestrial ecosystems. In the case of land forests, for example, the toxic substances released into the environment during the disposal of plastics contaminate the air and soil, leading to the death of plants and the collapse of land forest systems. Plastic pollution influences soil biota, seed germination, plant growth and productivity.[5] The plant can manufacture its own energy, making it a producer on the planet that is directly or indirectly related to the survival of nearly all terrestrial organisms. When large numbers of plants die off and organisms lose their food resources as well as their habitat, the survival rate of the organisms will be reduced in the face of the extremely undesirable living environment and conditions. A more serious consequence could be the extinction of species, which could lead to a break in the food chain.[6]

Climate Change

Globally, single-use plastics pose a threat to our climate. Plastic emits greenhouse gases and contributes significantly to climate change throughout its entire lifecycle, from the drilling of the fossil fuels that make up 99% of its material to its refinement, production, and disposal.[3] Plastics are made from fossil fuels including coal, gas, and oil. Fracking is a technique that can be used to extract oil and gas from the earth. Pipelines and trucks are used to transport the harvested resources to other locations for additional processing. These fossil fuels' extraction and transportation are carbon-intensive processes. According to estimates, this process will result in the annual release of tens of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.[7] Moreover, for every tonne of plastic that is burned, almost one tonne of greenhouse gases are emitted. Burning plastic results in the addition of 16 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere globally, which is the same amount of power utilized by over 2.7 million families annually.[3] Indirect consequences of greenhouse gases on climate change include effects on sea levels, global temperatures, the health of ecosystems on land and in the oceans, and extreme weather events like storms that exacerbate flooding, drought, and erosion.[8] The ecological balance may be impacted, and human life quality may be drastically reduced. More significantly, the petrochemical and plastics industries plan to quadruple plastic production by 2050, mostly to supply our markets with single-use plastic goods. The ability of humanity to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius is threatened by this growth. Moreover, the production and disposal of plastics may absorb up to 13% of the planet's remaining carbon budget by 2050, producing greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions generated by 615 coal plants annually.[3]

Introduction to BC's Plastic Ban: CleanBC

Single-use plastic litter.

In June 2022, the Canadian federal government published regulations[9] to ban six types of single-use plastic items:

  1. Shopping bags
  2. Straws
  3. Cutlery
  4. Stir sticks
  5. Ring carriers
  6. Food service ware made from or containing problematic plastics

Several municipalities in BC have started taking action on single-use plastics, but successfully addressing the use of and waste from single-use items in BC requires a combination of tools and policies.[10] Therefore, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is proposing developing a new waste prevention regulation to reduce the impacts of single-use plastic waste on the environment. CleanBC is the BC government’s plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2030. The proposed approach addresses the most problematic single-use items in British Columbia and puts forward actions to address the full life cycle of plastics, moving BC into a circular economy. The actions will complement the federal regulations and cover a broader range of items and materials, including:

  1. A ban on plastic shopping bags, and minimum fees of $0.25 and $2 on paper and reusable shopping bags in 2023
  2. By-request requirements for all types of single-use straws, cutlery, stir sticks, condiment sachets, napkins, cold cup lids, cup sleeves, and food or beverage trays in 2023
  3. A ban on problematic plastic foodservice packaging such as containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, film wrap, and cups made from polystyrene foam, PVC, or compostable plastic in 2024
  4. A ban on all packaging made from oxo-degradable plastic, including oxo-degradable bin liners, dog waste bags, and clothing packaging in 2024 [11]

2019-2026 Timeline of Bans [10]

April 2019: CleanBC Plastics Action Plan on 4 key policy areas - bans, advancing EPR, reducing plastics in the environment, reducing plastics overall

September 2020: 5 municipal bylaws banning single-use items approved

February 2021: 4 more municipal bylaws banning single-use items approved

July 2021: Municipalities given authority under the Community Charter to regulate specific single-use items

November 2021: Environmental Management Act amended to regulate single-use products

April 2022: Proposed "Preventing Single-Use and Plastic Waste in British Columbia Intentions Paper"

December 2023: First phase of proposed waste prevention regulation in effect

2024: Second phase of proposed waste prevention regulation in effect

Overview of Actions [10]

A waste prevention regulation is being proposed by British Columbia under the Environmental Management Act, which will gradually regulate single-use and plastic items through a phased approach to allow businesses sufficient time to adapt. The proposed regulation of single-use and plastic items include:

  1. Checkout bags
  2. Disposable foodservice accessories
  3. Problematic plastic foodservice packaging (polystyrene foam, PVC and compostable plastics)
  4. Oxo-degradable plastics

The Province will take into account the feedback received from the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan engagement regarding troublesome single-use and plastic items, which will be considered for future bans and regulations. Additionally, the Province will work together with municipalities, the federal government, and Indigenous governments to coordinate actions.

The provincewide regulation will be applicable to all individuals and will be synchronized with the federal timing to facilitate businesses and consumers in the transition.

The primary aim of these provincial measures is to complement the proposed federal government's single-use plastic bans, thereby aiding in waste prevention and reducing the consumption of single-use plastics.

The Urge for a Circular Economy

The circular economy concept.

The Province's goal is to move our current "take-make-waste" economic system (specifically plastics) into a circular economic system through "using a combination of strategic policy, investment, and regulation to stimulate the movement of plastics into the circular economy in British Columbia."[10] A circular economy is "a continuous positive development cycle that conserves and enriches natural capital, optimizes resource yields, and reduces system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows."[12] In doing so, plastics will be better managed by staying in the economy and out of the environment. Essentially, where resources are taken from the environment, they are transformed into products. Once those products are 'done' or 'used,' a circular economy means those 'finished' products will be reused and transformed into new products, which is added back into the economy. By moving plastics into the circular economy, humans will reduce their "reliance on a constant flow of new raw materials and offer environmental benefits in both urban and remote communities by reducing litter and the volume of material going to landfill."[10]

Advantages of BC's Plastic Ban

Reusable Items

Blue reusable cloth bag.

Not only are retailers no longer providing single-use plastic bags, but they are also being encouraged to require fees for paper bags and more durable reusable bags. Disposable foodservice accessories, including single-use straws and cutlery, condiment packets, cup lids and sleeves, and food/beverage trays will no longer be offered under this policy. Instead, they will be given out on a by-request basis, while durable, reusable items will be favoured. This same premise will apply to problematic food service packaging, except they will be entirely banned, and no longer available by request. The soon-to-be banned products include containers, bowls, film wraps, cups, and trays made of polystyrene plastic/PVC/compostable plastic. Durable containers made of aluminum, glass, and fibre-based materials will replace the problematic plastics.[10] Requiring fees on disposable items further incentivizes customers to use their own reusable items. Reusable items are not only less harsh on the environment, but they also create opportunities for economic growth. By moving away from single-use plastics, more job opportunities are created, related to the manufacturing of durable materials, and setting up reuse systems.[13]

Less Plastic in Nature[14]

There are three major ways in which plastic debris can engage with and harm wildlife: Entanglement, ingestion, and interaction. Entanglement is a common consequence of plastic pollution, often impacting ocean wildlife the most. Entanglement occurs when an animal is constricted, trapped, or encircled by plastic debris, most often a consequence of dumping. The most common debris involved is usually plastic rope, abandoned fishing gear, and packaging pieces. At least 344 species have been reported in an entanglement, including all marine turtle species, two-thirds of seal species, 89 species of fish, a third of whale species, a quarter of seabird species, and 92 species of invertebrates. Ingestion, which can occur intentionally, unintentionally, or indirectly (A predator that consumes prey that has ingested plastic), poses a real threat to organisms, and by extension, humans. The ingestion by animals can then lead to human ingestion. The size of plastic which can range from small particles to large sheets (in extreme cases), is reflective of the size of the animal. Ingested plastic varies in impact, with the possibility of a reduced appetite (Ultimately leading to starvation), ulcerative lesions, and death. Ingestion has been documented in roughly 233 marine species: All marine turtle species, over a third of seals, almost 60% of whale and seabird species, and 92 species of fish. Ingestion is less common for invertebrates than entanglement, only ever being recorded for 6 species. Plastic interaction with wildlife includes collisions, obstructions, and abrasions. interaction has led to the degradation of natural ecosystems that the local biodiversity relies on. Cases have been recorded where fishing gear collides with the fragile coral reef ecosystem, causing abrasion and degradation. More than 600 marine species have been harmed by marine litter, 15% of them being endangered. Single-use plastics pose a great threat to nature, reducing human use would reduce how much gets lost in the ecosystems.

Microplastics and Health

The impact of ingested plastic on human health is an underrepresented area of research. Still, the definite harm to the environment, and potential harm to humans has been identified as significant issue. Oxo-(bio)degradable plastics (Soft plastics, like doggy and dry cleaning bags) and plastics with oxo-degradable additives aren't conducive to a circular economy, and they contribute to microplastic pollution. They are not suitable for reuse, recycling, composting, or anaerobic digestion processing, and they do not break down on their own. They are most often found littered in landfills and marine environments, but they are also observed as having toxic impacts on soil, caused by the residual additives. Under the policy, oxo-degradable plastics will be banned, in favour of other, better options.[10] The limited research relating to human health is currently showing that macroplastic pollution isn't of nearly as much concern for human health as microplastics. Microplastics, particles smaller than 4.75 mm in diameter[14], pose the greatest threat to human health. They are ingestible in many ways; indirectly, through the seafood we eat that has also eaten the little particles, through our water, and by inhalation. It's been theorized that these plastics have the potential to damage human lungs. These plastics have been found in umbilical cords and placentas, (indicating prenatal exposure),[13] have 3 major concerns: the particles themselves, the release of pollutants into the body, and the leaching of plastic additives.[14]

Economic Gains

Upward, green graph.

There's been concern expressed about the potential economic losses that would arise from a single-use plastic ban. The plastic manufacturing sector directly employs between 13,00-20,000 people and indirectly employs 26,000-40,000 people, who would presumably be misplaced by a ban. However, there are far more job opportunities available related to the manufacturing of durable materials and products and setting up reuse systems. Transitioning workers in the single-use plastic industry to more sustainable roles will take a similar phase-by-phase approach to the ban. Research is also showing that it is possible to generate $10 billion in economic activity by replacing only 20% of single-use plastics on a global scale with reusable items.[13] Businesses will be given time to adjust to the ban, by taking a phase-by-phase approach.[10] The goal behind abandoning single-use plastics isn't solely to benefit the environment and biodiversity, but also to see positive changes in the economy. The benefits of the single-use plastic ban go beyond moving toward the circular economy. There will be fees put in place for customers who need to purchase non-plastic bags. A minimum of $0.25 for paper bags, and $2.00 for reusable bags will compensate retailers/small business owners the extra costs being put down to buy these more expensive bags, compared to the inexpensive cost of buying plastic.[10] Research is showing our economy can reduce costs associated with plastic pollution, and healthcare for those affected by plastic pollution. By phasing out petrochemical subsidies, and putting those funds into restructuring, it's possible for the economy to see great changes that also help the environment and the quality of life.

Disadvantages of BC's Plastic Ban

Most of the literature surrounding bans on single-use plastic tends to come to a consensus that the ban is positive in terms of factors like human health, pollution, and industry. [13]However, there simply has not been enough research on the long term effects of this kind of plastic ban to be sure that this policy will have a net positive impact.[15]

Is There a Cleaner Alternative?

Bags: Paper, Plastic, Cloth

In comparing plastic bags to their alternative paper and cloth, it was found that plastic bags are actually more sustainable than their counterparts. When taking the whole life cycle of a bag into account, high density polythene (plastic) bags have a global warming potential equal to 1.57kg of carbon dioxide.[16] A paper bag would have to be used 4 times to reach a similar carbon dioxide output and a cotton bag would need to be used 171 times.[16] They found that most people do not end up using paper bags more than once, usually just recycling them, and cloth bags are used at about a third of the time they should, which means that paper and cloth options are actually worse options than the often demonized plastic.[16] This discrepancy in pollution comes from factors like the manufacturing process where paper bags undergo an intensive process that releases “70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags” and cloth bags require more transport due to their size which results in a carbon dioxide use 80 times that of plastic.[16] In an EU study, they found that a ban on plastic bags, while decreasing marine plastic pollution, also increased marine aquatic toxicity because of the alternatives to single-use plastic.[17]


Single-use plastic utensil alternative: kitchenware.

Similarly, in the kitchenware industry, single-use plastic is being compared to reusable alternatives from an environmental standpoint, assessing whether the reusable products are truly better. Much like in the plastic vs reusable bag debate, assuming that reusable is the best option isn't always correct. There are a few factors to note which include resource intensity when it comes to manufacturing, water and energy consumption, and usage. [18]In products such as sandwich bags, the alternatives had a higher resource intensity on a per kg basis. Aluminum exceeded plastic in both energy use and global warming potential while beeswax wraps consumed the most water out of the products tested.[18] As one would expect, the environmental impact of reusable items decreases over time as you use it more. When looking at straws, metal and bamboo alternatives had more global warming potential and water consumption respectively compared to plastic.[18] The payback period ranges (point where using this product does more good than harm to the environment compared with plastic) was 50-100 uses for the metal straw, and the bamboo straw could not reach the payback point due to the intensive washing needed every time you use it.[18]

Other Negative Effects of a Plastic Ban


With the elimination of plastic bags, a study found that people in California increased their consumption of garbage bags because they had been re-using the plastic bags they received from carry-out or the grocery store as trash can liners.[19] This displays a concept known as “leakage”[19] which is often ignored in reference to plastic shopping bags. Leakage is described as “when partial regulation of consumer products results in increased consumption of these products in unregulated domains”[19] which can lead to increased consumption because a partially regulated item (single-use plastic bags) has now been taken away leading to the only option becoming an unregulated item (garbage bags). Because the demand for garbage bags is not going away, consumers are now left with one option.

Impacts on the Disabled Community

Impacts on the disabled community.

Banning items like plastic straws poses various issues. Environmentally speaking, these types of bans make little overall difference and act as a way to distract the public from “larger environmental and corporate social responsibility”[20] that needs to be taken by industry. Though banning plastic straws might make the public feel better, it’s just a greenwashing technique.[20] With a straw ban, it ignores the disadvantage of many people. A straw ban is implicitly ableist because it excludes those who need straws to live independently.[20] People with disabilities are often “disproportionately poorer than non-disabled people” which doesn’t leave them with the ability to get reusable straws.[20] Reusable straws are sometimes even worse for the the environment than plastic anyway with bamboo straws having a high contribution to global warming potential, and high energy and water usage because the straw needs to be hand washed. [18]

Small Businesses

Small businesses like family restaurants that depend on single-use plastics for delivery or take-out are also impacted by the ban. There are alternatives to plastic bags that businesses can use in stead, however these more environmentally-friendly plastic alternatives can oftentimes be more costly for the businesses.[21]


In conclusion, the BC government's plastic ban is a step towards reducing the impacts of single-use plastics on the environment, but it also has its drawbacks. The ban has undoubtedly reduced the use of single-use plastic bags and straws, leading to less plastic waste in the environment and the ocean. However, there are concerns about the effectiveness of the ban in achieving its intended goals in the long term. There is not enough research on the long-term effects of plastic bans to determine whether the policy will have a net positive impact on the environment.

Furthermore, the alternatives to single-use plastic, such as paper and cloth bags or reusable kitchenware, have their own drawbacks. These alternatives can be more resource-intensive in terms of manufacturing, transportation, and energy consumption, which can lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. The ban on plastic bags also led to an increase in the consumption of garbage bags, which may have partially offset the benefits of the ban.

Additionally, banning plastic straws may have a negative impact on the disabled community, as many individuals with disabilities require plastic straws to live independently. This exclusionary aspect of the ban highlights the need for more inclusive and accessible environmental policies that consider the needs of marginalized communities.

Finally, small businesses are also impacted by the ban, as they may struggle to afford the more environmentally-friendly plastic alternatives. It is important to consider the economic impact of such policies, especially on small businesses that may not have the resources to switch to more sustainable alternatives easily.

In conclusion, while the plastic ban is a positive step towards reducing the impacts of single-use plastics on the environment, it is important to consider the potential drawbacks and unintended consequences of such policies. Future research and policy development should take into account the full life cycle of products and the needs of all communities to ensure that the most effective and equitable environmental policies are implemented.


  1. Europe Direct (July 2019). "Single-use plastics". European Commission. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. Ritche H., Roser M. (April 2022). "Plastic Pollution". Our World in Data. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 "Health & Environmental Impacts of Single-Use Plastic". Plastic Pollution Coalition. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Marine plastic pollution". IUCN. November 2021. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. Roy P., Mohanty A., Misra M. (February 2022). "Microplastics in ecosystems: their implications and mitigation pathways". DOI: 10.1039/D1VA00012H. 1: 9–29.
  6. Fernando, WG. "Plants: An International Scientific Open Access Journal to Publish All Facets of Plants, Their Functions and Interactions with the Environment and Other Living Organisms". doi: 10.3390/plants1010001. 1: 1–5.
  7. Bauman B. (August 2019). "How plastics contribute to climate change". Yale Climate Connections. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. University of Hawaii at Manoa (August 2018). "Degrading plastics revealed as source of greenhouse gases". Science Daily. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. "Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations - Overview". Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 Scarpaleggia, Francis (February 2022). "PREVENTING SINGLE-USE AND PLASTIC WASTE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA INTENTIONS PAPER" (PDF). Retrieved April 2023. line feed character in |title= at position 26 (help); Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. "Information for businesses, charities, and not-for-profits". City of Vancouver. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. "Greening of industry in a resource and environment constrained world". Handbook of Green Economics: 53–68.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Scarpaleggia,, Francis (February 13, 2023). "THE IMPACTS OF A BAN ON CERTAIN SINGLE-USE PLASTIC ITEMS ON INDUSTRY, HUMAN HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN CANADA" (PDF). line feed character in |title= at position 32 (help)CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Ritchie, Roser, Hannah, Max (September 2018). "Plastic Pollution". Our world in data. Retrieved April 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. Goodday, V., Winter, J., & Schumacher, N. (2020). Energy & environmental policy trends: The hidden costs of a single-use plastics ban. The School of Public Policy Publications (SPPP), 13.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Bell, Kristy; Cave, Suzie (2011). "Comparison of Environmental Impact of Plastic, Paper, and Cloth Bags" (PDF). Northern Ireland Assembly. 36: 1–8.
  17. Herberz, Timo; Barlow, Claire; Finkbeiner, Matthias (2020). "Sustainability Assessment of a Single-Use Plastics Ban". Sustainability. 12: 3746.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Fetner, Hannah; Miller, Sheile. "Environmental payback periods of reusable alternatives to single-use plastic kitchenware products". The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. 26: 1–18.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Taylor, R. L. C. (2019). Bag leakage: The effect of disposable carryout bag regulations on unregulated bags. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 93, 254-271.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Jenks, Andrew; Obringer, Kelsey. "The poverty of plastics bans: Environmentalism's win is a loss for disabled people". Sage. 40.
  21. Shende, Kiran. "A Study on the Effects of Plastic Ban on Take Away Food Outlets" (PDF). Mukt Shabd. 23: 1–8.

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