Canadians use an estimated 2.8 billion plastic bags each year, and it’s taking a toll on the marine environment.
“Plastic bags are directly implicated in the deaths of marine wildlife, ranging from whales to seabirds to turtles,” said Boris Worm, a marine conservation biology professor at Dalhousie University.
The big problem with plastic bags is that they never go away.
“They’re not breaking down, except into smaller and smaller particles which then form microplastics which can also be dangerous,” said Worm.
Last year, Prince Edward Island passed a bill to ban plastic bags. The new law comes into effect on July 1.
Now, Newfoundland and Labrador is following suit, becoming only the second province in Canada to move forward with a province-wide ban.
In other provinces, municipalities have taken matters into their own hands, with Montreal and Victoria both banning bags.
Halifax is also looking into a ban. In January, Halifax Regional Council passed a motion to have staff draft up a plastic bag ban bylaw.
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There have been concerns raised by the Retail Council of Canada that local bans create confusion, affect customer convenience and cause administrative headaches.
But so far in Nova Scotia, the province is letting municipalities take the lead.
“We’re going to wait and see,” said Nova Scotia’s Environment Minister Margaret Miller.
It’s an approach that doesn’t sit well with the opposition.
“That’s lame,” said NDP environment critic Lenore Zann.
“We need to be leaders. We can show the world and the rest of Canada the way things are supposed to be done.”
Zann introduced a private member’s bill in March to ban plastic bags, but it has not been called up for a second reading since.
One province over, New Brunswick’s Environment Minister says they are considering some type of ban, but have no timeline.
“We are in discussions right now with the idea of banning single-use plastics in general,” said Jeff Carr.
“We are watching the other provinces that are engaging in this exercise so we can have the best model moving forward.”
But Worm says there is some sense of urgency, especially for Atlantic provinces who rely on the marine environment.
“Scientists have estimated that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since we invested plastics 100 years ago, and that may double or triple in the next few decades,” he said.
“Already we have an unsustainable tide of plastic in the ocean, so any step we can take to slow this and reverse this trend of plastic pollution in our oceans is a step in the right direction.”