Vancouver single-use fees criticized after people with meal vouchers charged

Why disposable cup fees are the only option at some Vancouver coffee shops, and the surprise charges some people experiencing homelessness discovered when they tried using free meal vouchers. Crystal Laderas reports.

Editor’s note: Although a receipt that was shared on social media appears to charge for dipping sauces, CityNews was told no condiments were ordered and that was the restaurant’s way of ringing up a reusable cup fee.

People experiencing homelessness are feeling the negative impacts of a Vancouver bylaw that introduced new fees on certain single-use items at the start of the year.

As of Jan. 1, businesses in Vancouver have to charge at least 25 cents for a disposable cup, as well as 15 cents for a paper bag.

Vancouver Odd Fellows handed out free meal vouchers over the weekend to people who were using a warming centre. Walter Wells with the organization was surprised to find out the meal didn’t actually end up being free, as people were charged a quarter plus tax for the cup after redeeming the coupon.

At least one receipt was shared on social media, where the customer was apparently charged the levy for a free meal. Although the receipt appears to charge for dipping sauces, CityNews was told no condiments were ordered and that was the restaurant’s way of ringing up a reusable cup fee.

“They walk up to the counter and to get your meal, you have to pay 26 cents or whatever it is. It seems silly to me,” he said.

“It’s not even the money, it’s that a lot of these people don’t have the cash on them. We would happily pay for it, but how do we do that? Give them each 27 cents to take away with them?”

The city is now taking a look at the issue and promising a response.

“It’s not something that came up during all the engagement that we did on the bylaws,” said Monica Kosmak, project manager for the City of Vancouver’s single-use item reduction strategy.

“Currently the bylaw does exempt charitable food services that use single-use cups to provide free or low-cost beverages from charging that minimum 25-cent fee. But this is a situation that’s a bit unique and we are taking a look at it. We can appreciate why that would be a concern and we’re working on a response as quickly as possible.”

For his part, Wells hopes something is done quickly.

“There’s got to be a simple solution. We just want to give them a piece of paper that gets them a free breakfast,” he said.

Related articles:

The City of Vancouver says people can opt for reusable options to avoid paying the levy.

“To avoid the fee and reduce waste, we encourage customers to bring their own cup or, if they’re having a drink to stay, to ask for it in a reusable cup,” Kosmak said.

However, many people are questioning the timing of the new fees, because some businesses still aren’t accepting reusable cups due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kosmak notes the city did delay implementation of the bylaws by a year during what was then the height of the pandemic.

“The delay was appreciated by some businesses, but there was a concern by other businesses who had already made the investment to comply with the bylaws,” she said. “And so because of that, and because plastic pollution is still continuing, we need to address climate change … We are moving forward, but we’re trying to do it in a really supportive way.”

Kosmak says the city is promoting ways reusable cups can be accepted safely.

“We’ve been letting businesses know that there are two ways that they can help their customers avoid the fee on single-use cups,” she said. “One is that they can use a contactless cup procedure that we developed with Vancouver Coastal Health, based on models that we’ve seen used around the world by major chains that lets customers bring in their own reusable cup and put it on a tray or a plate or sometimes we see it in a ceramic mug. That lets the barista make the drink without actually touching the reusable cup.”

The second option is a reusable cup share program.

“That’s kind of like a reusable car share program, but for cups. It lets customers take their drink in a reusable cup to go and then they can either return it back to that business or drop it off at another location, depending on the business model, and put that cup back into circulation. So it’s like a cup exchange program,” Kosmak said.

Related video: Cupsharing comes to Vancouver

The Vancouver bylaw also requires businesses to charge at least $1 for each new, reusable shopping bag.

Kosmak says it’s up to businesses to find ways to solve the frustration from consumers who don’t have options to avoid the fee. The bylaw doesn’t specify how businesses should use the money generated from charging for these single-use items.

“That is their choice, but we are encouraging businesses to use the fees that they collect on reusable cups, to invest in those reuse alternative models,” she said.

The city is also encouraging businesses to donate leftover stocks of now-banned plastic bags to non-profits, which could get use out of them.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today