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N.S. government may delay plastic bag ban, seeking ‘public health direction’

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WATCH: Nova Scotia is supposed to ban single-use plastics next month, but it's unclear if the province is ready to enforce the ban. Part of the concern rests with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Alexa MacLean has more.

On Oct. 30th, single-use plastic bags are supposed to be banned in all businesses across Nova Scotia, not just grocery stores.

This ban is part of the Plastic Bags Reduction Act which was introduced by the province last October.

Since then, a global pandemic has ensued and has caused many changes to the way consumers purchase items, like groceries.

READ MORE: Environmentalists say coronavirus fears have led to major setback on plastic pollution

This overhaul in safety measures around how people shop is precisely why one researcher in food distribution feels the plastic bag ban shouldn’t be delayed because of COVID-19.

“Consumers are much more disciplined, they are aware that they need to clean their reusable bags as much as possible. Behaviours are very different than just six months ago, just because of the pandemic,” Sylvain Charlebois said, a professor and food distribution researcher.

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“Unfortunately, by changing, or waiting, or delaying the decision, you’re basically telling Nova Scotians they’re not smart enough to become the important risk-managers that they are, really,” he said.

To delay, or not to delay?

On Sept. 9th, Global News sent an email request to the Nova Scotia Environment department asking whether the ban would still be enforced on October 30.

On September 25, an email response was sent stating, “Nova Scotia Environment is seeking input from Dr. Strang’s office about the use of reusable bags during Covid-19. We anticipate we will have direction in the next few weeks.”

Charlebois says research conducted by the Center for Disease Control in the United States indicates there isn’t a significant risk of virus transmission through the use of reusable bags.

Click to play video 'Sobeys ditches single-use plastic bags' Sobeys ditches single-use plastic bags
Sobeys ditches single-use plastic bags

He feels delaying the ban would send the wrong message to the public.

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“You would actually reinforce a false narrative, really. Because plastics aren’t necessarily keeping people safe. There are other ways to do it and frankly, the marketplace is very different six months ago,” he said.

Dr. Lisa Barrett is a medical doctor and clinician-scientist with expertise in infectious disease.

“If people are following all the other rules and bagging their own groceries, then it is not to me, much more likely that you get COVID-19 from a reusable bag than you would from an item that’s on the shelf that half a dozen people have touched during the day,” she said.

Environmental impact 

A report recently published by Oceana Canada, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization, discusses the disproportionate impact Canada is having on plastics ending up in the ocean.

“We’re only 0.5 per cent of the global population but we use 1.4 per cent of all the plastic. So, in addition to that, we produce more plastic waste,” Kim Elmslie said, the plastics campaign director with Oceana Canada.

Click to play video 'Study shows some Canadian consumers opt for more single-use plastic during pandemic' Study shows some Canadian consumers opt for more single-use plastic during pandemic
Study shows some Canadian consumers opt for more single-use plastic during pandemic

The report title Drowning in Plastic states that a June 2020 survey commissioned by the nonprofit found that 86 per cent of Canadians are in favour of a single-use plastics ban.

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Elmslie says moving forward with bans is critical because of the increased waste in landfills created by masks and gloves being thrown away.

“Now is the time for the government to act and to turn off that tap by banning single-use plastics. So, at least we can stop the flood of plastics and deal with the plastics that are already here,” Elmslie said.

The recent throne speech stated that the federal government plans to move ahead with implementing a ban on single-use plastics sometime in 2021.

“The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled. And the Government will also modernize Canada’s Environmental Protection Act,” the transcript reads.