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North American municipalities move to ban plastic bags (March 30, 2007)

Leaf Rapids, a small northern Manitoba town with a population of just over 500 people, has become the first Canadia...


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March 30, 2007 by Canadian Plastics

Leaf Rapids, a small northern Manitoba town with a population of just over 500 people, has become the first Canadian municipality to institute a ban on single-use plastic bags.

The township passed municipal bylaw No.462 on March 22, and retailers will no longer provide single-use plastic bags to customers effective on April 2.

Habitual violators of this bylaw could face fines of up to $1,000 a day. The town’s administrator Bond Ryan spearheaded the initiative, but was unable to comment on the issue yesterday.

“Towns have the right to ban stuff that defaces their town, and to help make their town look good,” said Ryan in an interview with Canadian Press.

Inquiries were being redirected to InStore Products Limited, a Toronto, Ont.-based company that has been working with the township since September. InStore helped with a school educational program and donated reusable Bring Your Own Bags for residents to use in place of single-use plastic bags. Bring Your Own Bags are made of non-woven polypropylene, and have a lifespan of approximately three to five years. InStore says each washable bag can hold the equivalent of three plastic bags, and could reduce consumption by 1,000 bags in its lifespan.

“We are not saying that plastics are bad, that is certainly not our motivation here,” said InStore’s director of sales and marketing Matt Wittek. “I think that this is an opportunity for companies to reduce plastic bag waste, and I think in time and collectively, we can all make a big impact.”

Many North American municipalities, including officials in large cities like Toronto, have been discussing the merits of bans or taxes on consumer plastic bags. In the United States, San Francisco’s city council voted 10 to 1 to ban large retailers from using petroleum-based bags earlier this week. Large supermarkets will only be allowed to use paper or compostable plastic bags under the new rules, making San Francisco the first US municipality to place a ban on conventional plastic bags.

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) has been a strong voice in the debate over plastic bag consumption, arguing for kinder alternatives to bans and taxes.

“Bans are not a solution, litter is a behavioural problem,” noted Cathy Cirko of CPIAs Environment and Plastics Industry Council. “Wise waste management practices are part of the solution, and reuse and recycling of the bags is what we are promoting.”

Cirko explained that Leaf Rapids has an open-pit garbage facility, and plastic bags can be harder to contain. She also pointed out that a shopping bag tax system has been ineffective in Ireland, where plastic resin consumption actually increased because consumers started purchasing more “kitchen catcher” bags.

Additionally, compostable bags raise some logistical issues when it comes to use in retail situations. The CPIA fully endorses the use of compostable bags developed for organics collection programs, but Cirko said compostable shopping bags might have a negative impact if the enter the recycling and landfill waste streams.

“This will kill recycling, [recyclers] will no longer be accepting any bags and film from San Francisco,” said Cirko. “Compostable grocery bags mixed with conventional polyethylene bags will have a negative impact on recycling.”

Because consumer shopping bags are also often reused for other purposes such as kitchen catchers, there is the possibility that these compostable bags could end up in landfill sites. As a result, Cirko said the compostable bags could go anaerobic and produce methane.

There is also the question of the impact these bans could have on the blown film sector. Plastic shopping bags are a major application for the industry, and continued efforts to ban the bags would also place limits on bag manufacturers.

“The attention on bags is unwarranted, and there are other solutions,” said Cirko. “We have a significant industry in Canada, and it will certainly be a negative impact in Canada. There will be lost jobs.”


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