Isn't it time to really ban plastic pollution

Published on March 13, 2017

Wendy Elliott Column

This is the time of year when you notice the plastic garbage along paths and roadways. Of course, it’s been there all along, but somehow when the snow edges back you can’t help but bemoan the litter.

We’ve gotten terribly slack again about plastic bags. I can’t think of any retailer that charges for them anymore except Walmart. Plastic ought to be on everyone’s radar.

A Halifax councilor, Tony Mancini, wants municipal staff to study the idea of banning plastic bags. His question is timely because Montreal is moving forward to implement a complete ban on Jan. 1, 2018.

Last year, Montreal passed a bylaw that will prevent stores from selling single-use plastic shopping bags within city limits. Apparently the ban applies to all types of bags; however, small plastic bags used for fresh vegetables or medication will not be banned for hygienic reasons. The fines will be fairly stiff at $200 to $1,000 for a first infraction and $300 to $2,000 for any subsequent ones.

I was interested to note that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation jumped on the anti-plastic bags bandwagon back in 2008 and has stayed there. At the time, an NSLC spokesperson said more than 10 million plastic bags were used at liquor stores each year – which says as much about booze sales as plastics.

The small town of Leaf Rapids in Manitoba was the first community in North America to ban plastic bags. That was in 2007. Toronto was on board until the industry lobby pushed for individual retailers to have the option to charge for plastic bags or not.

Newfoundland and Labrador have some progressive communities. You can’t, for example, get single use bags in Nain since that town banned them in 2009, while Fogo Island went plastic-free in 2015.

Plastics are pretty much verboten in India now, although an exemption was given to plastic carry bags exclusively for export purposes. The plastic was becoming a hazard to the environment in that country, blocking gutters, sewers and drains.

Since last fall in France, biologically-sourced items, formerly made of plastic, are being encouraged. A law, which will come into effect in 2020, is intended to ensure all cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials.

On one level, we know that plastic bags are exceedingly dangerous to wildlife, but we don’t connect. The term ‘white pollution’ was coined in China to describe the effects of discarded plastic bags on the environment. And yet a brand new law in the state of Michigan is going to prohibit local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. They’ve got a ban on banning plastic bags, which is kind of par for the course in the U.S. these days.

I’m glad we have the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia to set out the path we ought to follow. Staffer Susanna Fuller wrote last summer in a blog that predictions indicate by 2050 plastic may outweigh the biomass of the fish in our oceans.

“Addressing the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans is similar to climate change in that it requires everything from individual and local action to regulatory change at all levels of government, global commitments and private sector innovation,” Fuller wrote, “to make the systemic change and reduction in plastic use and production that is desperately needed.”

Nova Scotia generates approximately 27,000 tons of film plastic per year of which 40 per cent comes from plastic bags. As Fuller so ably points out, we simply can’t keep the blinders on.