Provincial ban on single use plastic bags (shopping bags)
‘Single use plastic bags’ are an environmental concern for several reasons:
(1) Most are fossil fuel based products, do not degrade in the landfills, are toxic and will be a source of greenhouse gas emissions for many years to come;
(2) The “biodegradables” break down into smaller fragments of the original material; the “compostables” require special facilities at landfills to manage them;
(3) The flimsy texture results in littering of trees, streets, ditches, culverts, sewers;
(4) They are a hazard to wildlife including eagles, fish that become caught up in them, and to animals that consume them in landfills.
Although “single use” might be a misnomer as many are re-used, they all end up in the landfill eventually. A town of 2,500 households using 10 per week could send a million bags to the landfill each year. Although they represent a small amount of the plastic in the landfills, simple substitutes exist while they do not for vegetable and packaging plastics. Eliminating them is a simple first step towards plastics’ reduction. Supporting paper or re-useable bags promotes the paper industry and local cottage industry.
Paris, Adelaide, New Delhi, China, South Australia, Bangladesh, and Rwanda have banned them. Phase outs and reduction measures are in place in Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, and Whitehorse while Leaf Rapids Manitoba, Fort Mac Murray Alberta, Tofino B.C. and Huntingdon Quebec have banned them. Ontario and Alberta aim to reduce the number of bags sent to landfills by 50% by year 2012 and 2013 respectively (Banks, 2008; CBC June 2, 2010). Ontario municipalities struggle with the issue. The Municipal Act allows Municipalities to pass laws for environmental protection. Sioux Lookout passed a by-law to ban them for implementation after a one year phase-in period but a legal challenge could occur. Options to a by-law are:
(1) to encourage a voluntary ban in favour of paper and re-usable cloth bags;
(2) to discourage use by merchants charging for them;
(3) to require that only compostable bags be distributed.
Options (1) and (2) work if all merchants are participate; (3) requires huge investment in landfill facilities.
Legislation would eliminate the risk of legal expenses incurred in defending a by-law. It would put all merchants on the same playing field. Provincial law can and has implemented environmental protection when voluntary compliance fails, for example, bans on smoking in public places and on incandescent light bulbs.
WHEREAS single use plastic bags distributed by retail establishments pose environmental risks from the perspective of waste management; aesthetics; and the use and depletion of fossil fuels;
WHEREAS jurisdictions across the world have banned these products in favour of re-usable customer supplied bags, including municipal jurisdictions in Ontario and other provinces and such a ban has widespread support by Northwestern Ontario municipalities;
WHEREAS Ontario recognizes the need to reduce the distribution of plastics bags by setting reduction standards but provides no guideline or legal protection for municipalities who pass a by-law to ban them;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association urgently requests the Province of Ontario to enact legislation imposing a ban on the distribution of single use fossil fuel based plastic bags.
Adopted by the membership: April 2011