Councillor Gardi introduced a motion to the City Council for the elimination of plastic bags from Sault retailers. Most plastic bags come from grocery stores and big-box retailers such as Walmart.
Stores charge a five-cent fee per bag, which isn’t discouraging their use to make a serious impact on reducing plastic waste. Plastic bags affect the oceans killing hundreds of thousands of marine animals. They contaminate the soil with toxic bits of plastic that animals digest entering into the food system.
The Trudeau government wants to ban all single-use plastics such as plastic straws and plastic grocery bags. Earliest the federal ban would start is 2021. It will require every city and retailer to comply. If the minority Liberal government falls, the next government may cancel the plastic ban.
Cllr Gardi wants to move the process along in the Sault so they are compliant before the Canadian government enforces the ban. All major retailers have begun plans on how to comply with the new federal regulations but are at different stages.
One issue Cllr Gardi brought up in my conversation with him was the City’s legal authority. Does the City have the legal authority to impose a complete ban on plastic bags? Over the next few months, the Council has requested an in-depth analysis of the feasibility. The federal government has the jurisdiction to issue a complete ban. It is unclear if a different level of government could issue the same ban without legal consequences.
A big concern is the retailers. When will they be ready to stop using plastic bags? What can be used in their place without imposing a big cost to consumers?
Depending on your age, you may remember when grocery bags were paper and not plastic. The grocery stores might want to use paper bags again.
The other solution is reusable bags. They cost $1 or more depending on the quality, material, and size. Those bags are available at most retailers. They would need to increase the amount of bags kept in stock. However, most retailers could do that with enough notice.
Ward 5 Cllr Scott made a great suggestion at the Council meeting. The City could make reusable bags with local artists work on them. If the bags look attractive, people are more likely to remember to use them.
The City could give out free bags to people based on a low income or provide a set number of free bags to every residence. From a financial standpoint, the burden of purchasing the more expensive reusable bags falls disproportionately on people with a low fixed income. The cost to give out several bags to every residence is minuscule compared with the size of the Sault’s budget.
However, using paper and/or reusable bags doesn’t solve one problem. Most people use the five-cent bags for their garbage bags in their houses, such as in the kitchen and bathroom. The small garbage bags to buy are made of tougher plastic which takes longer to breakdown in a landfill. This could replace one plastic problem with a different plastic problem.