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Halifax regional council asks for report on plastic bag ban

Two-hour debate Tuesday reveals divide among councillors

4 min read
caption A discarded plastic bag on Chebucto Lane in Halifax.
Silas Brown
caption A discarded plastic bag on Chebucto Lane in Halifax.
Silas Brown

Halifax regional council has tossed the idea of a plastic bag ban over to municipal staff.

Council passed a motion, 16-1, on Tuesday for staff to examine several options to reduce or eliminate plastic shopping bags in the municipality. The motion followed a two-hour debate on the subject.

Coun. Tony Mancini, who brought forward the motion, said he’s heard from residents, both in his district and elsewhere, on the topic.

“Many of them (are) praising all of our initiative at taking this on as a bold move,” he said during the meeting.

Coun. Steve Adams was the only council member to vote against the motion.

Many councillors also agreed Mayor Mike Savage should write to the premier affirming council’s support for a province-wide bag ban. Councillors Russell Walker, Steve Adams, Matt Whitman and David Hendsbee voted against the idea.

The Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee discussed plastic bags in December, recommending that council give their thoughts on a potential ban. According to a report brought to the committee, an estimated 125 to 208 million plastic shopping bags are used in the Halifax Regional Municipality each year. In the past, recycled plastic bags, which are a type of film plastic, were exported to the People’s Republic of China, but that country has started to ban film plastic imports.

The new report is expected to be presented to the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee next year. In addition to an all-out ban, staff are supposed to look at reduction strategies, such as using paper bags and charging for plastic.

In Canada, Montreal has already banned plastic shopping bags and Victoria City Council has voted to implement a ban. 

Ecology Action Centre calls for action

On Tuesday morning, the Ecology Action Centre released a petition supporting a plastic bag ban.

“Like the municipality, we would like to see the provincial government take the lead and implement a comprehensive approach to reducing our use of plastics including a province-wide ban on plastic bags,” said policy director Mark Butler in a news release.

“However, if the province doesn’t act, Halifax municipality should move on its own.”

The Ecology Action Centre also said that “banning plastic bags is just one part of the solution.” The organization also asked the municipality to support the Extended Producer Responsibility, which would hold manufacturers responsible for the plastic film they produce.

Council voted 14-3 Tuesday to reaffirm their support of EPR to the premier. Councillors Walker, Adams and Whitman voted against. Council previously affirmed their support of EPR to the province in the fall of 2014.

Public reaction

Coun. Tim Outhit took to Twitter on Sunday before the vote and asked for public opinion on the issue. Some respondents said they support a ban, while others said they rely upon reusing shopping bags for pet waste and diapers.  

Ian Loughead replied to Outhit’s request for feedback. He said a ban wouldn’t affect the amount of film plastic he uses.

“If they take away shopping bags, that’s probably not going to change how I do stuff. I’m just going to have to provide my own bags,” he told The Signal on Monday.

Loughead said he uses plastic bags every day, as spill-proof lunch bags or to waterproof his shoes on a wet day. In large part, he added, he’s simply used to bags being part of his everyday life.

“We always grew up saving those, and we would use them until they basically fell apart.”


Jan. 18, 2018: An earlier version of this story misstated Victoria's plans for a ban.

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