Sustainability

Plastic bags face challenge from environment committee

Council members pass a motion to look into plastic bag ban or fees

Councillors voted in favour of a report looking into the effect of plastic bags Thursday.   Seth Earle

City council members on the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee on Thursday called for a report looking into the reduction or ban of plastic shopping bags in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“We’re not on the leading edge of this type of legislation,” said District 9 Councillor Shawn Cleary, of Halifax West Armdale, during the session. “Denmark did this 14 years ago. They have extra fees on their plastic bags. Ireland, Whales, Italy, Scotland, Germany, England — even in the United States, 17 states and 98 cities have either banned or added fees to plastic bags.”

Only two of the seven councillors at the meeting spoke out with any form of opposition to either a ban or a city-imposed bag fee, although none of them opposed the official motion.

District 1 Councillor Steve Streatch said he is bothered by the amount of litter he sees, but he believes the municipality should “clamp down on those who are doing it,” not impose bylaws around plastic bags. “I just hate the thought of penalizing the vast majority of people that are trying to do the right thing.”

District 14 Councillor Lisa Blackburn said about people who litter: “You know what, jerks are gonna be jerks, let’s just give them one less thing that they can throw out their window.”

But a plastic bag ban is about more than just reducing litter.

“About 10 per cent of the oil production in the world goes to making plastic bags,” said Cleary. “The average person throws out on average ten plastic bags a week.”

It might not be as easy as doing research and bringing a vote to council, however.

“The fees I’ve seen across the country have generally been driven by the market,” said District 3 Councillor Bill Karsten. “I don’t think we as a municipality have any legislative authority to impose a fee. I don’t even know what that would look like.” He said he would leave it up to the solicitor and the upcoming report to glean more information on the issue.

A similar situation arose in Newfoundland when the city of St. John’s passed a motion to support a ban of plastic bags, when they had no legislative authority to do so. That authority would have to come from the provincial government.

Some stores have already taken it upon themselves to impose fees or bans.

A sign in the window of Atlantic Superstore on Quinpool Road says “first bagless store in Atlantic Canada.” Many shoppers who visit the store put their groceries into reusable bags that they bring themselves.

Sherry Mackay is a mother of three who lives in the neighbourhood.

“At first it was a hassle because I’m usually in a rush coming home from work, trying to get home and get supper started,” she says, outside the store. “But after a couple of times forgetting, I just always leave my bags in the trunk so it’s not really a problem.”

Walmart Canada has even instituted a fee. Nationally, they started charging five cents for a plastic bag in February of 2016.

In the end, all councillors supported the motion, citing the benefits of research.