YARMOUTH COUNTY - Nova Scotians use 300-500 million plastic shopping bags each year. That usage and the disposal of used bags has become a big concern for the province.
There was lively discussion on the topic by Yarmouth municipal council on Jan. 24 after Waste Check’s general manager, Gus Green, made a presentation.
Environment Minister Iain Rankin recently said he’s considering a province-wide ban or a special levy on plastic bags as a way to limit the growing stockpile of film plastic in the province, since China imposed its own ban on importing the waste products.
Green says the big issue with shopping bags is they take 1,000 years to break down.
“And they don’t actually biodegrade – they just break into smaller particles and if they end up in the water those particles can end up in the food chain,” he said.
The option of using paper or cloth bags generated much discussion.
“If we could start encouraging businesses in the area to move away from plastic and use a paper or cloth bag, it would help to reduce those plastics,” said Coun. Patti Durkee.
Warden Leland Anthony added a warning to the use of cloth bags.
“You have to be very careful. With the use of cloth bags in some jurisdictions they have noticed an increase in ecoli. There’s possible contamination from putting fruit and vegetables in a bag previously used for meats and fish. Not washing the bags regularly can cause problems,” he said.
Deputy Warden John Cunningham suggested that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) become involved in the issue.
“Maybe through the FCM that’s our tool. Try to make things a little more uniform across the country, rather than a patchwork. It would be a much better approach.
Warden Anthony stressed the need for the province to initiate EPR (extended producer responsibility) in connection with the ban. EPR is an environmental policy approach in which a producer's responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product's life cycle.
Deputy Warden Cunningham, owner of Carleton Country Outfitters, says his business uses a lot of the small plastic bags.
“We have a bag collection program and give them to organizations that can reuse them,” he said.
He added that he now carries more things out by hand when shopping elsewhere instead of using a bag and has noticed others doing the same.
Council will discuss the matter more at the February committee of the whole meeting.
On board with the ban
Digby municipal council approved a motion to support the ban of single-use bags in Digby County.
Amherst also approved a motion for a provincewide ban, providing the ban is part of a strategy and promotional campaign to reduce the use of all single-use plastic bags.