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Banning Plastic Bags is Not So Easy
Add Time:2013-9-7Source:AnonymousHits:2414

Banning plastic shopping bags completely or forcing retailers not to sell them to customers could be riddled with problems, said Mayor Lois Jackson.

At last week's council meeting Jackson, who also chairs the Metro Vancouver board, said she has concerns and questions about the possibility of the regional district imposing tough new regulations on plastic bags.

"I think everybody is on the same stream in that they would like to somehow get rid of plastic bags. But I think why we are all hesitating is that we are not sure what the alternative will be," said Jackson.

Council was discussing the pros and cons of a plastic bag ban as regional district staff are currently preparing a report recommending a ban on the distribution of free disposable shopping bags. Jackson noted staff has obtained a legal opinion suggesting that the province and some individual municipalities, which have the power under their charters, have the ability to ban free bags, but the same isn't true for regional districts.

A letter by Jackson also notes, "The report will recommend that Metro Vancouver work with interested municipalities to take a co-ordinated approach to implement their bans on free disposable shopping bags, and also that the province be requested to consider enacting a provincewide-ban."

However, at the Delta council table Jackson expressed concerns about the implications.

"Let's say you walk into a store and buy a hat but there's no bags. What do you do? How are we going to carry goods around? How will we shop efficiently and effectively without some way of transporting the merchandise?" she asked.

Jackson suggested one municipality take it on as a pilot before a wider-sweeping ban is enacted.

Councillor Robert Campbell wondered about the seriousness of the issue of plastic bags ending up in the landfill and whether environmental groups are behind making it into something bigger.

Last year, San Francisco became the first big city in North America to pass legislation banning plastic bags. Large markets and pharmacies have the option of using compostable bags made of cornstarch or bags made of recyclable paper. The city joined several countries, including Ireland, that already have outlawed plastic bags or have levied a tax on them.

Delta Chamber of Commerce executive director Peter Roaf said the chamber hasn't formulated a position yet on the banning of plastic bags.

Mark Startup, president and CEO of Retail B.C., said his association is concerned that forcing businesses to eliminate or charge for plastic bags would be another attack on retailers by politicians wanting positive publicity.

"We have very carefully watched the evolution in Europe and in North America and here in British Columbia, the politically-driven idea to have a shopping bag tax or levy. What concerns us is there is so much plastic that's ending up in landfill, but shopping bags as a component of that waste is almost infinitesimal," he said.

"Governments shouldn't place the enforcement side of things, charging customers at the point-of-sale or absorbing the cost of their business, because it's politically expedient to pick on the retailer or consumer at the point of sale," he said.

Noting many progressive retailers are already taking a leadership role in reducing the amount of plastic bags handed out to customers, Startup said better biodegradable plastic-type bags are available but also represent a significant cost.

"If the spirit of the retailer, or the vision of the retailer, is to contribute to reducing the amount of material in the landfill, or send to the landfill plastic material that will de-construct far more quickly than plastic bags, the risk they take is the consumer will not pay that extra amount.

"They might also not afford to pay for those bags because profit margins are too thin," added Startup.

While there's debate over banning plastic bags at the retail level, meantime, the Corporation of Delta has moved toward banning them on another level. Earlier this summer council agreed that residents wanting to dispose of yard trimmings will no longer be able to put them in plastic bags for curbside collection.

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