New single-use plastics requirements coming into effect this year.

What does this mean for museums?

July 2023

What is this all about?

The Government of British Columbia recently announced the new Single-Use and Plastic Waste Prevention Regulation, that addresses hard-to-recycle single-use and plastic items. The regulation will cover items like shopping bags, disposable food service accessories, certain types of plastic, and food service packaging made from specific materials.

The goal of this regulation is to prevent plastic waste and pollution and promote a healthier environment as part of the government’s CleanBC Plastics Action Plan. By focusing on hard-to-recycle items, BC aims to move towards a circular economy where waste and pollution are minimized, and products and materials are reused.

The regulation will begin to be enforced in December 2023, allowing a six-month period to educate the public about the new requirements and giving businesses time to use up existing inventory.

The province’s actions complement efforts by municipalities and the federal government in Canada to reduce plastic waste. BC’s regulation goes beyond federal measures by limiting the use of various single-use items, promoting reusable alternatives, and eliminating the use of additional items. Reusable products produce fewer emissions, consume less water, and generate less waste and pollution compared to disposable options. Overall, these actions are part of BC’s commitment to addressing climate change and creating a better future for the next generation through waste reduction and sustainable practices.

You can find the full provincial new release here or head to this page for more comprehensive information on the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan.

Province sets single-use plastic requirements

“As part of our government’s CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, the regulation strengthens our efforts to prevent plastic waste and pollution, and ensure a better future for the people of B.C. through a healthier environment ... Focusing on hard-to-recycle single-use and plastic items will help move B.C. to a circular economy where waste and pollution are eliminated, products and materials are kept in the economy through re-use, and natural systems are regenerated.”

CleanBC Plastics Action Plan

In B.C., billions of single-use and plastic items are used and thrown out every year. Many of these items are difficult to recycle and end up as garbage or litter. The CleanBC Plastics Action Plan supports government’s commitment to phase out single-use plastics and transition to a circular economy.

What does this mean for my institution?

If your museum, gallery, heritage site or educational centre has a bistro, café, or gift shop, this regulation will likely affect you. If you are offering plastic shopping bags and single-use food service items (drinking straws, cutlery, stir sticks, plastic takeout containers and other disposable food service accessories), you will need to look into alternatives over the next few months. Remaining stock of these items can be used up but you will not be able to buy them after December 20, 2023.

There are different regulations for different items:

  • Plastic checkout bags (including those made from compostable plastics) will be banned.
  • Paper checkout bags (with a recycled paper content of at least 40%) can be provided to customers for a fee.
  • All single-use straws, cutlery, stir sticks, ketchup, soy sauce and other condiment

sachets, napkins, cold cup lids, cup sleeves, food or beverage trays can only be provided upon request, meaning you will no longer be allowed to include these items on trays or in takeout food, or in pre-packaged bundles by default. Customers may still select them from a self-serve station, though.

When you are starting to look into alternatives, be aware that starting in 2024, the following items will be phased out:

  • Plastic food service packaging such as containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, film wrap, and cups made from polystyrene foam, PVC or compostable plastic.
  • So called oxo-degradable plastics that are used for compostable bags, bin liners, dog waste bags and clothing packaging.

Compostable or biodegradable plastics are not good alternatives for other types of plastic. Material and energy use to produce these alternative items are high and they are designed for single use only which does not alleviate the waste issue and often problematic recycling.

Durable reusable bags and reusable food-service items, including cutlery, and refillable or bulk options for condiments are recommended. “Bring your own” campaigns for travel mugs, food containers, reusable straws and cutlery are becoming increasingly popular and common-place. They also provide opportunities for branded food accessories or shopping bags sold in your museum cafĂ© or gallery gift shop. Deposit systems for reusable food containers like Victoria’s Nulla Project or Vancouver-based Sharewares will likely become more widely available (they have already expanded beyond just coffee cups). And signage to invite your guests to linger for a while and enjoy their food and drinks from real dishware on-site might provide them with even more time to browse your gift shop.

More information and resources on sustainability best practices for businesses can be found here.

Actions to reduce plastic waste

Plastic waste is a huge problem. For example, it's estimated that we throw out 65 million foam takeout containers in B.C. each year. Positive change is possible by rethinking the items we use.

Where can I get some help to make those changes?

The BC Museums Association is partnering with our colleagues at the Alberta Museums Association, Ocean Wise, and representatives from ICOM Canada on a joint project focused on reducing plastics in museums and cultural heritage institutions. Our aim is to create a long-term strategy for more sustainable arts, culture, and heritage sites that looks at institutions’ entire operations – front of house such as visitor services, gift shops and food outlets but also back of house like collections storage and archives. At the end of the initial project, we hope to have a complete toolkit that provides actionable steps to assess your institution’s reliance on plastics and recommendations for alternative materials. The toolkit will be integrated with AMA’s Climate Action Toolkit and other existing resources.

Over the last few months, we have launched a research phase and connected with pilot sites across the country to start this project. Please stay tuned on the official announcement for this project and opportunities for BCMA member sites to get involved.

Climate Action for Museums

The Climate Action Toolkit provides information tailored to museums on the various steps they can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and green their operations. The toolkit features climate action case studies from museums across Canada, including the Royal Alberta Museum and the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. It also includes practical instructions for how museums can assess their current greenhouse gas emissions, create an action plan to reduce those emissions, and put that plan in place to meet meaningful goals.

If you have specific questions about the new provincial requirements coming into effect or about material use and plastic waste in your institution, please reach out to us and we will do our best to provide you with additional resources and information.

More Climate and Emergency Resources