Saanich council will debate a motion to ban single-use plastic bags on Monday.
“I think this is an important motion for council to approve,” said Coun. Susan Brice, who filed a notice of motion last week calling on council to adopt a bylaw banning single-use plastic bags based on a model from the Capital Regional District (CRD). It would ban retailers from offering single-use plastic bags free of charge, but does not set any specific charges itself, while spelling out various exemptions.
While it is not clear how many single-use plastic bags currently circulate through Saanich, the number is likely high.
Greener Footprints, a not-for-profit society registered in British Columbia, estimates that Canadians use up to 15 billion bags every year, or about 17,000 bags a minute. Naturally, many will end up in local landfills.
“This issue has been discussed at our council table for many years in the context of waste reduction,” said Brice.
Saanich council earlier this year received a presentation from two Glenlyon Norfolk School students, who urged council to reduce and eventually eliminate plastic bags, citing a long list of harmful effects.
They include the death of sea birds, sea mammals and fish. Single-use plastic bags have also received criticism for contributing to climate change by using non-renewable hydro-carbons. Finally, scientists have linked the central chemical compound in the manufacturing of plastic bags, Bisphenol A – or BPA – with pregnancy problems, prostrate problems and behaviour problems in children.
If Saanich were to ban single-use plastic bags, it would join a small list of Canadian municipalities which have banned them. It includes three communities in Quebec, two communities in Manitoba and one in Alberta. Montreal will join this list on Jan. 1, 2018 as the largest Canadian municipality to ban such bags. Vancouver has also considered banning single-use plastic bags.
If Saanich council were to endorse Brice’s proposal, it would follow the City of Victoria, which is currently wrapping up community consultations designed to phase out single-use plastic bags.
This proposed ‘roadmap’ for ending the use of single-use plastic bags started in March. Staff will report back next month with a draft bylaw also modelled along the CRD model, with an opportunity for public comment in November before adoption. Other Greater Victoria communities are also taking steps in the same direction.
Brice said she hopes council will send the CRD’s model bylaw to the environment and natural areas advisory committee, as well as the planning, transportation and economic development committee for review and advice.
Brice said her motion is an “important step” but only the first of many. “Ultimately, it will be important to have broad community and business support as well as be compatible with any other municipalities within the region, which are moving to eliminate the single-use plastic bags.”
However, both the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business have questioned plastic bag bans.
“Plastic bags are multi-use, recyclable, hygienic, convenient and more environmentally friendly,” according to the CPIA.
While critics of single-use plastic bags have challenged this assessment in recommending the use of reusable bags, the City of Victoria has also cautioned against high expectations.
“There is no ideal carrier bag option,” said Fraser Work, director of engineering and public works. “All bag types have advantages and disadvantages, but some bag types pose more significant impacts than others.”
A number of retailers have already voluntarily phased out single-use plastic bags or started to charge customers for using them.