Environment

HRM considers voluntary reduction of single-use plastics

Environment and sustainability committee will discuss proposal next month

A report to the municipality’s environment and sustainability committee recommends regional council ask staff to explore ways to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics.

In January, the committee recommended staff consult with the industrial, commercial and institutional sector to develop a voluntary waste reduction strategy for single-use plastic. Items include plastic bags, cups and straws.

Mark Butler, policy director at the Ecology Action Centre, supports the idea.

“It’s a two-pronged approach: reduce or refuse,” he said after the committee meeting on Wednesday.

Currently, the Halifax Regional Municipality accepts single-use plastic bags for recycling. Other plastic items, such as straws and cups, go to the HRM’s landfill.

The report said a bag ban is not considered a solution because plastic bags are only one per cent of the total material received at Materials Recycling Facility.

The report recommends the HRM educate residents and businesses about the damage caused by the plastics. It also found a voluntary approach to bag use would not impose financial hardships on businesses by adding more expenses to create alternatives and decreasing employment rate.

If a voluntary reduction fails, the regulatory modernization advisory committee would ask for a single use-plastic distribution ban by Dec. 31, 2019.

Butler feel the voluntary approach isn’t enough.

“We have been telling people to not litter for 15 years,” he said. “The voluntary thing doesn’t work; we need a systemic change.”

When single-use plastics are not managed properly by residents, businesses and solid waste operations, they can have a dangerous impact on the environment.

Caroline MacPherson, a Dartmouth resident, attended the meeting to support the ban and is planning on starting a petition. She has seen the impact plastic can have on turtles, which sometimes mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them.

“It’s killing our environment and I am terrified of what the future looks like,” she said.

Several businesses in the HRM don’t use single-use plastics, including the Atlantic Superstore on Quinpool Road and Pete’s Frootique in Bedford and Halifax. Other stores, like Bulk Barn, charge five cents per bag.

The environment and sustainability committee will reconvene on Dec. 6 to discuss the issue further and get public feedback.

With files from Jacqueline Lee