Does it really change that much?
The majority of us probably have, at some point or another, started accumulating a stash of plastic bags in a forlorn corner of our room or house. Those stashes may soon be a thing of the past if Nova Scotia follows Halifax’s lead in implementing a ban on plastic bags.
The Halifax regional council has recently passed a motion to work with the other nine Nova Scotian municipalities to draft legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags by the end of 2019. This move comes despite staff recommendations that the municipality start with voluntary or phase-in measures. Halifax’s ban follows in the footsteps of other cities such as Montreal and Victoria, who have implemented bans and subjected stores to fines if they’re caught using plastic bags.
One big issue with Halifax’s proposed ban is the inability translate it to a province-wide effort. While close to 15 mayors or wardens in the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, which represents approximately 75% of Nova Scotia, are willing to take Halifax’s proposed bylaw back to their communities, the province has been reluctant to get involved. According to the Chronicle Herald, environment minister Margaret Miller has stated that the province is satisfied with municipal efforts, despite acknowledging the fact that a province-wide initiative could help resolve patchy and confusing bans implemented across different municipalities. Even though fellow Atlantic province PEI implemented a province-wide ban on plastic bags, Nova Scotia seems willing to sit this one out.
Trying to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags is nothing new either. Businesses have been charging for plastic bags for a couple of years and promoting the use of reusable bags by selling them in store. Costco stands out at the most prominent example, requiring any customers to bring their own boxes or bags when shopping there. These initiatives by private companies are helping reduce the number of plastic bags being used or at least making customers think twice about if they need a bag. Perhaps bans from municipalities like Halifax are playing catch-up with the private sector’s initiatives.
Given that the Ecology Action Centre collected nearly 2,500 signatures in favour of the ban, the societal shift away from plastic bags may already be here. The question is, how many businesses and individuals will follow through with their support of a ban when their bottom line may be affected, or they realize how often they get plastic bags regularly for the sake of convenience?
Another issue the plastic ban ignores is what to do with all the bags currently in circulation, sitting around our houses, or in landfills. There are many people already trying to repurpose plastic, whether it be making baskets, using them for small household garbage cans, and more. Yet, there seems to be little initiative addressing how to reuse or repurpose plastic bags by municipalities, which could be a lucrative project as we move towards a greener society.
Causing an uproar over banning single-use plastic bags seems a bit ludicrous when you put it into context with all the other single-use plastics or containers not being banned. Whether it’s straws, Styrofoam takeout containers, or the plastic packaging used in shampoo bottles, there are a lot of plastic and other harmful materials being put in landfills. Understandably, banning some items like straws can be detrimental for individuals who rely on them for accessibility reasons or may not be able to afford the alternatives; however, if Halifax and Nova Scotia want to really make a positive environmental impact, they should be considering a larger scale ban on other single-use plastics or excessive packaging as well.
Even broader still, climate change and the environment should be policy areas that we take more seriously. Just this January, Halifax became the second Canadian city to declare a climate emergency. Moreover, in 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave a gloomy world forecast if we are unable to prevent warming the globe by another degree Celsius, meaning harsher cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and far-reaching changes across many sectors are likely in our future. In that sense, while smaller actions like banning plastic bags are good, perhaps there should also be a focus on how to tackle the big issues of climate change that can and do have devastating consequences.
Halifax, along with the other Nova Scotia municipalities, has taken a good step in drafting legislation to ban the use of plastic bags by the end of this year; they should keep in mind what other big picture measures they can take alongside the plastic bag ban so we can avoid pushing our planet even further past the environmental tipping point.