What to do with those single-use plastic bags.
The province had been looking to ban the bags and was seeking support for the initiative from municipal units, which it got. But then this fall, word came that the province no longer was pursuing a ban, at least not now.
Gus Green, general manager of Waste Check in southwestern Nova Scotia, was among those surprised and upset by the reversal.
Months earlier, Green and others had approached municipal units about plastic bags, getting the word out about a proposed ban.
“Pretty much across the province we were able to get universal support from the municipalities for a ban on plastic bags,” he said.
Iain Rankin had been the environment minister when the ban proposal was put forward. In a cabinet shuffle in the summer, Rankin was moved to lands and forestry. The environment portfolio went to Margaret Miller, who later indicated the government was not moving forward with the bag ban after all.
“It was very frustrating after all the work we did getting consensus,” Green said.
Leland Anthony, warden of the Municipality of Yarmouth and chairman of the Nova Scotia Solid-Waste Resource Management Regional Chairs Committee, wrote a letter to Miller, saying they were disappointed with the province’s decision.
“Municipalities have worked really hard to obtain consensus, not easily achieved on most subjects, to support the province,” Anthony wrote.
In response to Anthony’s letter, Miller said she was “encouraged that new, innovative uses and new markets for these (plastic) materials have emerged in the last year. Retailers are taking new approaches and many consumers are changing how they shop.”
Last year China announced it would stop importing 24 types of plastic, including film plastic, due to contamination in the material it was getting. That China was such a big market for this material is what brought the plastic bag issue to a head, Green said.
“Now I think they (the Chinese) have started to talk, at least, about reopening the borders,” Green said, “but they’re going to be very stringent about what they accept and what they don’t.”
On Dec. 6 – the same day Green was interviewed for this story – the environment committee of Halifax Regional Municipality voted in favour of a bylaw that would ban single-use plastic bags there. HRM staff had recommended starting with a voluntary ban for a year, then implementing an outright ban if it was deemed necessary. The committee opted instead to support a complete ban.
Green said municipal officials elsewhere in the province likely would be watching with interest to see what Halifax did on this issue.
But plastic bags and the effort to ban them – given their environmental impact – are only part of a broader effort to reduce waste, one that Green says has to involve extended producer responsibility.
“(EPR) is what we need to see happen in this province,” he said. EPR would make “the major players who introduce all this paper and packaging material into our marketplace and into our homes responsible for the cost of taking it and recycling it.”