Single Use Plastic Bags

At the beginning of March  Council received a request from a resident to ban single use plastics from the Town. This follows discussions in various media, and initiatives by a number of communities in North America and elsewhere, to consider or undertake a ban. The City of Montreal for example has passed a bylaw to ban lightweight plastic bags (<.05 mm thick) to take effect in 2018, with fines ranging from $200 to $2,000. A Halifax Councillor has requested City staff investigate the idea of a plastic ban. Change.org includes a number of online petitions for this issue including one for the City of Guelph.   There are communities including the small Town of Leaf Rapids Manitoba that have bans in place.

Valley Waste audits in 2011 and 2012 of residual waste indicates that, plastics as a component of the audited waste, went from 12.4 to 20.8%. The total amounts of audited waste in each year were different indicating that in 2011 plastics made up approximately 83 tonnes and in 2012 approximately 198 tonnes. It is unclear whether this increase reflects better recycling or more use of plastics. Of this total, and assuming that Wolfville – including its permanent residents plus student population and those who shop in town,  accounts for about 10,000 “souls”, produced approximately 9 and 20 tonnes of plastic respectively in 2011 and 2012. VW staff note that it costs taxpayers $125/tonne to recycle plastic bags, which appear to make up about half the plastic collected. In the scheme of things influencing taxes, the cost of recycling plastic bags may not make recycling the most compelling argument. That is not to say that there are not compelling arguments just that actual tax costs may not be one of them.

VW staff did note the need to educate more people on recycling. I would suggest that is much more than simply encouraging residents to put their plastic waste in blue plastic bags – which btw are a not insignificant amount of the plastics collected!

In speaking with the Wolfville Business Development Corporation Board yesterday, Board members were strongly in support of continued promotion of an environmental lifestyle and rewarding good behaviour through points and discounts for BYOB (that’s bag). Such initiatives would be consistent with the Town’s recent Cittaslow designation. So a carrot not a stick.

I know there will be some residents who want Council to institute a ban on single use plastics. While I am not against such a ban per se, and I do believe and am saddened by the serious damage to the environment wrought by plastics, I am also a pragmatist. We have Provincial and Town bylaws against smoking within 4M of an entranceway, requiring people to pick up after their animals, keeping street noise to a reasonable level etc., and we do not have the resources – perhaps the will -to enforce. However, if we #justalldowhatweknowweshoulddo (e.g., you know you should pick up after your dog!) we can figure out small ways to remember to take our own bags when we shop, to be mindful of when we could carry an item instead of bagging it, to forget the individual bags when buying a pepper and some broccoli, to ask your supermarket if they give points or $ for bringing your own bag and making a point to shop there if they do. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses opposed the Montreal ban citing that it would result in consumers buying less! Let your local businesses know that you might buy more if they support your environmental ethics.

Again, not suggesting a plastic bag ban should not be considered but I do believe we know what to do – if we are old enough to shop we are old enough to figure out how to minimize the amount of plastic we consume. Lose the plastic where you can #doitinwolfville .

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