Climate change activists ask Town to ban plastic shopping bags

July 20, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

Hot on the heels of Orangeville Council’s decision to discourage the use of plastic straws, a local activist group is hoping to take things one step further by prohibiting area businesses from distributing plastic bags.

Nancy Urekar has been a member of Climate Change Action Dufferin-Caledon (CCADC) since its inception in 2016. The group, she says, exists so as to accept responsibility for living conditions of future generations and to take action to mitigate climate change. No small feat, but one she and a collection of like-minded local residents intend to tackle with grit and fervor.

The group’s mission brought them to Orangeville Council on Monday night (July 16). There, Ms. Urekar and fellow CCADC member Tom Purdue implored the community’s elected representatives to take a stand for the environment.

“This is a serious, serious situation we’re all facing here with the overuse of plastics,” Mr. Perdue said. “Since 1950, when plastics were brought into the commercial world, we have produced around eight billion tonnes of plastic. That’s almost an unimaginable number. Of that, only nine percent of plastic is making its way back into recycled packages. The remainder is going somewhere else. It’s going into landfills, our countryside and, unfortunately, it’s finding its way into our waterways and oceans on a really big scale.”

He added, “I know we’re only one group, but we’re looking at what we can do locally to stem pollution on what we can single-use plastics. Things we use for convenience for a very short time, maybe only once or twice. We’re really trying to dig into that.”

In a report submitted to Council, CCADC claims that more than one trillion single-use plastic bags are used across the globe every year. The average Canadian, says Mr. Perdue, will use approximately 200 plastic bags in a year. Ms. Urekar states it costs approximately 17 cents (U.S.) to dispose of each plastic bag properly, while they can only be recycled once.

As a whole, Canada is a major offender of plastic waste production, CCADC says, generating roughly three million tonnes of plastic waste a year. Of that amount, between 10 and 12 percent is recycled. Looking strictly at the numbers, we’re not doing nearly enough, explains Ms. Urekar.

As she searched for potential answers, Nancy came across a recent move by Victoria, B.C., to outlaw the distribution of plastic bags. The city’s council passed a bylaw in December 2017 that prohibited grocery stores from offering or selling plastic bags to shoppers. The move was challenged by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association (CPBA) in the B.C. Supreme Court but the court sided with the city and the ban came into effect on July 1.

Now, in Victoria, shoppers can request either paper or reusable bags to cart their groceries home. CCADC is hoping Orangeville Council will support a similar move.

“Our ideal outcome is to get single-use plastics, in this case bags, out of use, replacing them with something with a higher rate of reuse,” Mr. Perdue said. “While we’re trying to get rid of these bags and get into other alternatives, we don’t want to get into paper bags. They have a big footprint too. We need to get into reusable bags.”

Ms. Urekar though believes it’s too big a step to simply go from single-use plastic bags to multi-use reusable bags and as such is prepared to stomach the use of paper bags for a time.

“Paper bags are worse than plastics, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Ms. Urekar said. “Paper will be phased in and phased out. It’s a way of making new habits, a temporary solution to a major problem. In the end, our hope would be most people would start using fabric bags, which, on average, last for at least 171 individual uses.”

She added, “This has been done before – Victoria is doing it, Montreal is doing it, Winnipeg is looking at it. This is throw-away consumerism at its worst and it’s starting to become a real problem in the world. What we’re looking for is regulatory intervention, which is needed now to start changing how people do things. We, as a community, can be (provincial) leaders in doing this.”

Mayor Jeremy Williams thanked Ms. Urekar, Mr. Perdue and the CCADC for the work they do in the community, stating they have “clearly put a lot of time and effort into this”.

Coun. Gail Campbell, while seemingly not opposed to the idea itself, noted her concern over how the Town would enforce such a bylaw were it to follow in Victoria’s footsteps.

Coun. Nick Garisto believes this is an issue the provincial government should address, questioning the merit of Orangeville taking a stand on its own.

“Maybe if the County was on board with this, I’d consider it, but I’m not in favour of Orangeville doing this on our own,” Coun. Garisto said.

Ms. Urekar noted the group had approached County Council as a whole and were told to seek out each individual municipality’s approval before it would be considered at regional level.

With no motion forthcoming, Deputy Mayor Warren Maycock suggested the item be passed along to the Orangeville Sustainability Action Team (OSAT) for their thoughts, with a formal report to be brought back for Council’s next meeting on Aug. 13.

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