Halifax has moved one step closer to greening its grocery stores by banning single-use plastic bags.
Earlier this week, the municipality’s Environment and Sustainability Committee voted in favour of a compulsory ban on the shopping bags rather than a voluntary one, as had been suggested in a previous staff report.
The committee will bring its proposal to council and recommend that a bylaw be drafted as soon as possible, in collaboration with 10 other Nova Scotia municipalities, including Yarmouth and Cape Breton.
But the municipality’s solid waste manager, Matthew Keliher, has warned that it’s a complicated process and far from a done deal.
“There’s a lot of different bag ban requirements,” Keliher said in an interview on Friday.
“There’s the thickness of the bags, there’s different exemptions for your fruits and vegetables to be allowed in a bag… so some of those areas will need to be discussed and brought forward to council to get their input in order to draft that bylaw.”
According to a municipal report, up to 208 million plastic bags are still used in the region annually. Keliher said a ban on these single-use sacks would mean less material is shipped off to local recycling facilities and dumped in landfills, provided residents adhere to the ban and don’t purchase other plastic garbage bags as a replacement.
Consumers who support the policy, however, say they’ve already ditched plastic bags for the most part, and have no intention of returning to them.
“I’ve had one bag that I bought probably 15 or 20 years ago that I still reuse,” said Moira Fraser, a retired nurse and Halifax resident.
“We still come home with plastic from time to time, but it’s far less than it was 10 to 20 years ago.”
Sean Gallagher, manager and founder of the Local Source Market, said his establishment has been plastic-bag free since 2008.
The independent grocery store has its own canvas bags, which he touted as not only green but an excellent branding opportunity as well.
“It was just kind of an obvious thing that it was good for the environment to do that… Since then, it seems to be a pattern and people are used to it. They’ve put the (reusable) bags by the front door or in the back of their car, and they just have a cycle and they stick to it, and it works.”
The municipality is still considering ways it might enforce the ban, including door-to-door checks or a complaint-based system. If the ban is enacted, Keliher explained, it would come with an education campaign on the changes and benefits of scrapping single-use plastic bags. If it isn’t, he encouraged residents to take on a personal ban anyway.
“It’s one of those issues where there’s lots alternatives to getting a single-use plastic bag. You can bring your own or just bundle it up in your arms and take it to your car,” he told Global News.
“At the end of the day, the plastic issue is one of reduction and residents can always take that into their own hands.”
Other Canadian municipalities that have banned or restricted plastic bags with various effective dates include Montreal, Victoria and Vancouver.
Evidence exists to suggested that both voluntary and compulsory bans are effective, said Keliher. Once the city has tackled plastic bags, he said he would like to turn his attention to textiles, which are currently crowding Halifax-area landfills.
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