Categories: City Hall

Plastic bags pique councillor’s curiosity

When Scott and Jill Tansowny go for groceries, they make sure to bring re-usable bags with them – and if cashiers ask them if they want a plastic bag, they say no.

The couple has been using re-usable bags for years now after embracing a no-plastic-bag policy in their household.

“We’re in the habit that everything you buy in the store has to go in one of these plastic bags, but a lot of the time (you can) just politely decline the bag and just carry it in your hands,” Scott said.

The couple has recently been advocating for a city-wide ban on plastic bags. The issue is a somewhat familiar one for St. Albert, where councillors tossed around the idea of a plastic bag ban in 2011 before ultimately throwing the idea in the trash.

The prospect of a ban will return to council in the new year when Coun. Natalie Joly brings to the table a motion to have an administrative report drawn up on the impact, benefit and risk associated with bylaws to ban disposable single-use bags as well as single-use plastic straws and cutlery.

In Alberta, Wood Buffalo is the only municipality to enact a plastic bag ban. Elsewhere in Canada, Montreal is doing the same starting in 2018.

The last time St. Albert looked at a plastic bag ban, Alberta Environment had just signed a memorandum of understanding with four Alberta retailers associations for a voluntary strategy to reduce plastic bag distribution by 50 per cent by 2013.

But that strategy did not have the desired effect and reduction efforts stalled at roughly 20 per cent.

And while St. Albertans reduced their waste generation between 2009 and 2016 from 181 kilograms per person to 121 kilograms, plenty of residents are still throwing their plastic bags in recycling.

“The city just completed an informal audit of our residential curbside blue bag program this summer and found that the number one unrecyclable item put into blue bags was the single-use plastic bag,” states an administrative response to a council inquiry from Scott.

Joly, who provided the Gazette with a copy of that response, said her upcoming motion is really to give council some more information on the issue, which will also be coming up at the Environmental Advisory Committee in 2018.

“I’m always interested in ways that we can do a better job protecting the environment,” she said.

“I don’t know what the results of the report will be if council decides to support this, but certainly there’s a lot of evidence from other cities showing (a ban) does show good results.”

And for Scott, a ban on plastic bag use could prevent eyesores during spring melt as well as protect the ecosystem of the Sturgeon River valley and Big Lake.

“There’s a whole lot of negatives (for plastic bags),” he said.

“The biggest thing is the culture shift that has to occur – that’s probably the biggest barrier.”

April Hudson :April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette