The Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council has burst hope of restaurant bag fees being set aside in this city.
Coun. Brenda Locke wanted this to be at least until the provincial government and restaurant industry arrive at a “suitable” resolve at what she argues are the “unexpected consequences” of restaurants imposing bag fees when they’re not able to provide reusable packaging.
Locke said bag fees put an “administrative burden” on restaurants that’s particularly challenging while they’re fighting for economic survival.
“Surrey was an early adopter of the provincial government’s plan to reduce plastics and that was admirable and I think we did the right thing by doing that,” she said. “The rule of unexpected consequences though I think came up for the restaurant sector because there wasn’t an alternative, or there isn’t an alternative for them yet, to provide take-out bags.”
“The public is really offended that they didn’t pay on December 31 for their take-out bag and then all-of-a-sudden they are now paying 25 cents for the bag,” Locke said. “It’s an annoyance to the public, it’s an annoyance to the restaurant sector.”
Councillors Jack Hundial and Linda Annis supported Locke’s motion.
On the charging of 25 cents, Hundial said, “I don’t really how it really comes back to supporting an environmental cause in this case. What I do see is restaurants charging for a bag that may only be five cents but charging 25 and pocketing the 20 cents out of it.
“Maybe it’s time to take a bit of a pause here.”
Annis said she’s “very concerned” about the bag costs.
“We didn’t think through all the unintended consequences that have happened,” she said. “I’m also very concerned that people who are on fixed income and oftentimes going to fast food restaurants, all of a sudden we’ve increased their cup of coffee, we’ve increased their burger cost and it just doesn’t make sense to be doing this now or really at any time. I think we need to come up with a much better solution.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and councillors Mandeep Nagra, Doug Elford, Allison Patton and Laurie Guerra voted against the motion.
Guerra said it’s a provincial issue and that city hall has received less than 10 complaints from the public and businesses regarding the bylaw.
“We as a council supported a climate emergency in the city of Surrey,” she recalled. “I think we need to start putting our money where our mouth is.
“I was charged 25 cents, and next time I remembered to bring my bags, you bet I did, they’re in my car,” Guerra said, “and I think it’s a bit of a learning curve. Everyone I’ve talked to so far doesn’t mind that, because it’s good for our environment.”
Elford noted that plastic bags consume 40 per cent less energy and generate 80 per cent less solid waste than paper bags.
“But I think in this case the intent is there but it is really challenging when you start poking holes in bylaws like this. You’re going to limit it just to the restaurant industry? It makes it really challenging to enforce. I agree the 25 cent fee going to the restaurants, that’s not fair. But I believe that is really the responsibility of the province, the ones that set the law.”
“Every time we get a little push-back from the public, we can’t be wavering on this,” Elford said.
Patton said people who are upset with paying the 25 cents could instead “go buy some vegetables.
“I think that’s a lot healthier,” she said. “Another idea is Metro often does promotions around the environment, so perhaps we can very quickly get a solution whereby they make it very popular, if you go through the drive-thru, you know, you bring your own bag and it could be something fun and exciting.”
McCallum said “if we’re going to start second-guessing ourselves all the way down, it’s not going to send a very good message as we head into the future and to try to do a lot more things for the environment.”