Toronto is on the verge of becoming the first major Canadian city to ban single-use plastic bags.
A proposed bag ban bylaw is expected to go through its final signing at city council Nov. 27. Once the bylaw is finalized, all single-use plastic grocery bags will be banned from use by retailers, with exemptions for things like produce and meat. The ban is expected to take effect Jan. 1, but fines likely won’t be handed out until July 1, allowing a six-month grace period for retailers to use up old inventory.
Plastic bag bans are not a radically new idea, according to plasticbagbanreport.com, which cites many places around the world trying to get control of their plastic bag usage. Several communities in Canada, including Thompson, Man. and over 70 businesses across N.W.T., have banned the use of plastic bags with little complaint. These communities said that in just a matter of months customers developed the habit of bringing their reusable cloth bags on shopping trips and, according to a recent cross-Canada survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion, the majority of Canadians would support an all-out ban on single-use plastic bags.
So it is not consumers who are vocal about preventing the ban in Toronto; it is the plastic bag manufacturers and the businesses that use them that are trying to stop it.
Many of the groups affected, like the Ontario Convenience Store Association, are threatening legal action if the bill passes, calling the bylaw “invalid” and saying it is not within the city’s jurisdiction to enforce this type of ban.
The problem with these complaints from opponents of the ban is that the ban becomes a legal issue rather than what it should be, an environmental issue.
I am sure the Toronto city councillors went to council one day and said that they just wanted to fuck over everyone involved. No, they didn’t: they developed the plastic bag policy as a response to a widely known environmental problem.
In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme inventoried shore pollution in 12 major coastal regions around the world. Plastic bags and bottles accounted for 80 per cent of seaside pollution. All of that plastic cannot be blamed solely on coastal communities.
Let’s look at this issue from a local perspective. Anything dropped in the Saskatchewan River will do one of two things. It will either sink or make its way into Hudson Bay, which connects to the ocean.
Greenerfootprints.com finds that Canadian bags have been found as far away as Scotland, but no matter where plastic ends up, it causes huge environmental problems. Wildlife get caught in plastic, eat it, or, in the case of the small plastic pieces in the Pacific Ocean, even live on it, drastically changing the ecosystem.
Plastic does not biodegrade either. It photodegrades, so that as a bag breaks down, harmful chemical byproducts remain and end up in the soil and water.
Plastic pollution is a well-known problem, yet we are unwilling to inconvenience ourselves to resolve it.
Between nine and 15 billion plastic bags are used every year in Canada and each one of those bags takes at least 1,000 years to photodegrade. It’s time we start making changes to make our world better and stop doing environmentally damaging things — like wasting plastic — because they are convenient.
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf