Toronto Considers Rescinding Plastic Bag Ban

Toronto Considers Rescinding Plastic Bag Ban

Council Agreed to Reconsider
TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, September 26, 2012 (ENS) - Toronto City Council is under industry pressure to rescind its new ban on plastic shopping bags, due to take effect January 1, 2013.

One industry group has threatened to fight the ban in court. The Ontario Convenience Stores Association sent a letter to the city solicitor September 5th warning it would seek judicial review of the bag ban if council does not rescind it.

Toronto City Council will reconsider the ban on plastic bags at its October 2-3 meeting. If the ban is upheld, the city of 2.5 million people would become the first large Canadian city to impose a ban on plastic bags.

Surprise Ban
Council had voted on June 6 to ban the bags in retail stores, but the decision came in a surprise vote.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford had presented a motion to get rid of the five-cent plastic bag fee the city had in place for the past three years. Council voted to dump the fee but then voted 24-20 in favor of another motion to ban all plastic bags as of the first of next year.

Toronto's decision has resulted in other cities, such as Halifax and Vancouver, announcing their intention to consider banning the bags.

Mayor Ford is opposed to a ban on plastic bags. "We've made a lot of dumb decisions, but this one takes the cake," he said in June after the vote that approved the ban.

While City Solicitor Anna Kinastowski has declined public comment on this issue, she is expected to brief council members in private next week, warning them that the hastily passed bag ban leaves the city vulnerable to lawsuits.

A Disposable Society
The Toronto Environmental Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports the ban, said in June , "This means that as a City, we've sent a clear signal that single-use, disposable plastic bags, are no longer going to pollute our parks, ravines, and take 1,000 years or more to 'break down' in the landfill."

"We need to move away from being a disposable society, and focus on conserving resources for current, and future generations," says the Toronto Environmental Alliance on its website. "We can't keep up with this level of waste, simply for convenience.

Plastic is made from oil, a non renewable resource, and requires significant energy to be processed, and ultimately recycled or disposed. Plastic bags also pollute the environment - blowing around in parks and getting stuck in trees, floating in Toronto's ravines and on the beach - and ultimately harm wildlife!"

Five-Cent Fee Successful
The Retail Council of Canada has been actively advocating for the reinstatement of the five-cent plastic bag fee, meeting with councilors and staff to persuade them of the benefits of the fee.

The fee bylaw had been in effect since June 2009 and was intended to help the city divert 70 percent of its waste from landfills, says the RCC.

"The bylaw has proven to be a success as retailers have reduced plastic bag usage by about 70 percent over the last couple of year," the RCC said. "There are many examples of retailers having channeled the funds collected to worthwhile environmental and local community causes."

Decision Must Be Evidence-Based
With another viewpoint, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association Monday launched a website examining the "facts and myths" regarding plastic shopping bags.

The website AllAboutBags.ca is intended as a resource tool designed to provide information on plastic shopping bags from the industry point of view.

"Reversing the ban on plastic shopping bags in the City of Toronto is the responsible decision for City Council to make from a social, economic and environmental perspective" says Marion Axmith, director general of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.

"This is a complex issue. All bags, whether used as carry bags or to manage household waste, have environmental impacts," Axmith said. "Toronto's decision to ban plastic shopping bags was made based on misconceptions about bags and the environment and without analysis of the facts and the consequences of a ban."

"Based on the evidence, a ban is unnecessary and will have negative consequences that will not reduce the city's waste costs, extend the life of the landfill, or reduce litter, but it will make life more difficult for Torontonians and cost them more," said Axmith.

"Bags are not just a convenience, but a necessity for residents to manage organic, pet and household waste and for everyday impulse purchases which is why the reuse rate on bags in Toronto is close to 80 percent," Axmith said.

Axmith and many others say a ban will not eliminate plastic bags from the city's waste system because residents will have to purchase bin liners for their household waste. These are likely to contain more plastic than conventional shopping bags and will cost them anywhere from 10 to 20 cents a bag, Axmith points out.

Some Torontonians agree. One father wrote on the website of the "Globe & Mail" newspaper, "As a parent, I use those bags to put garbage in, to carry things and store things in. I'm just gonna have to buy damn bags anyways. Here's an idea for city council: We have 148 new skyrise buildings coming in the next 8 years - screw the bags and fix the transit nightmare in this city."

Another commenter said, "Calling them 'single use bags' is a misrepresentation. I don't know anyone who doesn't use the bags for something else again."

"The ban will cause needless economic hardship for small, local retailers like convenience stores and over 10,000 Ontarians employed in plastic bag manufacture," argues Axmith. "These are Canadian-owned, small, family-run companies with five thousand jobs in the Toronto area that will be affected."

But the Toronto Environmental Alliance says the city is ready for a plastic bag ban. "Torontonians changed behavior very rapidly after the bag fee was introduced - bag use dropped by more than 53 percent, and up to 80 percent in many major stores. Ninety percent of Torontonians surveyed agreed the bag fee changed their behavior within a year of the ban. All of this shows that Torontonians were ready and willing to adapt very quickly to the bag fee, and we believe they're ready for a full ban."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

Cover photo: Fruit Shop in Kensington Market, Toronto, Canada. Author: Juan M from flickr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)