The question of what to do with plastic bags has been discussed in Halifax and around Nova Scotia since China announced in 2017 it would not longer be accepting certain waste products, including film plastic, which is used to make the bags.
On Tuesday, regional council voted 13-4 to have staff draft a bylaw to eliminate the distribution of single-use plastic bags.
Each year, Nova Scotians use an estimated 300 to 500 million plastic bags. That means between 125 and 208 million bags are used in just Halifax, and many end up in the water.
“The bag itself has handles and loops that could easily cause entanglement in seals and mammals or birds,” said Tony Walker with Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies.
“Then if it is in an area where there are lots of wave actions, such as rocky coastlines, it can break down into smaller fragments and the chances of retrieving that from the environment is negligible to nil.”
Walker says those smaller bits continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they can be easily swallowed and end up in the food chain.
According to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, plastic bags are among the 10 most common items found during cleanups.
“Nova Scotia is Canada’s ocean playground, so it’s paramount that we take action,” said Walker.
But there is some concern about how a ban might be rolled out. The Retail Council of Canada says the best approach would be to have a province-wide ban so there is consistency for businesses.
The council’s Atlantic director, Jim Cormier, says Montreal is noticing issues with their ban because surrounding communities did not follow suit.
“Some are banning the bags, some are not, some are doing it on thickness, different levels of thickness it’s just completely contrary to the concept of reducing administration red tape and allowing businesses to work with government,” he said.
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But so far, the provincial government has no plans to consider a ban.
“If municipalities want to continue in this format, certainly, we would welcome that,” said Environment Minister Margaret Miller.
“We’re not ready to move into that realm yet.”
While Halifax is taking the lead, the municipality is working to collaborate with the 10 largest municipalities in the province so there is a harmonized approach as suggested by the retail council.
“The more municipalities that get on board with it, the better,” said Councillor Sam Austin.