MONCTON – A by-law to limit the use of single-use plastic bags unanimously passed first reading at the Moncton City Council meeting Monday night.
The by-law bans businesses from offering plastic bags at the checkout counter but allows them to provide paper bags for a fee only if the customer asks for them. Each business will be able to set the cost of the paper bags themselves.
“We would allow paper bags because through our consultations with the retail council and the businesses, they said that they do need some type of bag. However, the intent is to reduce any type of single-use plastic bag, hence the customer must first be asked if he or she needs a bag,” said Elaine Aucoin, Moncton’s director of environmental planning and management, who presented the by-law to the council.
Those who violate the by-law will face a fine of between $140 and $2,100. There are some exceptions to the law, but city staff hopes the rule will encourage people to move away from single-use bags.
“The number one intent to reduce single-use bags and motivate people to always use reusable bags,” Aucoin says.
Councillors Brian Hicks said while he supports the move, the law isn’t going far enough.
“It seems to be symbolism more than anything,” he said. “I just think there are way too many exemptions.”
However, Councillors Pierre Boudreau and Blair Lawrence noted that the by-law is a good first step.
“We are hopeful that the province will come in at some point in the very near future with a more comprehensive total ban on all single-use plastics. It should be a provincial decision,” Boudreau said.
“It is absolutely not going to come close to the overarching need to regulate the kinds of plastics that are in our world and the way we have to regulate it but I think it’s an important baby step in the right direction,” Lawrence said.
Single-use plastic bags will still be allowed to:
- package loose bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains or candy;
- package loose small hardware items such as nails and bolts;
- contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, poultry or fish, whether pre-packaged or not;
- wrap flowers or potted plants;
- protect prepared foods or bakery goods that are not pre-packaged;
- contain prescription drugs received from a pharmacy;
- transport live fish;
- protect linens, bedding or other similar large items that cannot easily fit in a reusable bag;
- protect newspapers or other printed material intended to be left at the customer’s residence or place of business;
- protect clothes after professional laundering or dry cleaning;
- protect tires that cannot easily fit in a reusable bag; or
- collect and dispose of animal waste.
The by-law follows a survey conducted by staff of the Moncton, Riverview, Dieppe as well as waste management firm Eco360 as part of a working group set up last year.
Sixty businesses from various industries took part in the survey. It found that 70 per cent of businesses already offer more environmentally-friendly options, though 53 per cent still offer typical plastic bags and almost all don’t currently charge a fee to customers for a single-use bag.
Although more than 90 per cent of the businesses are concerned about the environmental impact of plastic bags, cost is the top reason (58 per cent) that they’re not offering reusable bags, followed by a lack of demand from customers (36 per cent) and store policy and procedures (12 per cent).
Staff also consulted the Retail Council of Canada, which said larger stores are expecting such a by-law because many other municipalities in the country have made similar moves, Aucoin said.
Gena Alderson, Eco360’s Waste Diversion Coordinator, told Huddle in an interview in April, that single-use plastic is a difficult material to market and sort, and they make up the most of the plastics that come through Eco360’s facility.
“Anything that we cannot market, there’s no one who’s going to take it to recycle it, we have to landfill it, we can’t store things forever. Obviously, we don’t want to do that, we try to do whatever we can to avoid it, but that is kind of the end of the line,” she said. “If the by-law is passed, that would mean significantly less of that single-use plastic bag, plastic film material coming through our facility. For us, that would be a good thing definitely.”
The by-law still requires second and third readings from the council, which is expected in future meetings. It’s expected to come into effect July 1, 2020, to give businesses time to exhaust their plastic bag supplies.
Dieppe and Riverview are expected to take up similar by-laws later this month.