Nanaimo councillors vote to ban plastic bags from retailers

‘If we want to try and get something done we should shock people’

Receiving a plastic bag from retailers in Nanaimo could soon be a thing of the past.

Nanaimo city councillors voted in favour of banning the bags during a special council meeting on Monday night. However, a ban won’t take place until city staff can determine whether the municipality has the authority to impose one. Staff are expected to report back to council as soon as possible, but no concrete timeline was provided during Monday’s meeting.

The vote followed a presentation to council by Denis Hughes, Kirily Park and Paul Manly, who urged councillors to consider a levy on single-use plastic and paper bags from grocery stores within the city. The trio also recommended a gradual approach, by implementing a levy and then eventually moving to a full-scale ban. The also cited a 2012 statistic from the Globe and Mail that said Canadians used more than 2.9 billion plastic bags per year, as well as the some of the dangers plastic bags pose to the environment.

“It takes about 300 years or longer for these bags to biodegrade,” Manly said.

Park told councillors that some supermarkets charge a small fee for bags while others don’t provide bags at all. She said the group reached out to all the major grocery store chains over the summer in the area and asked if they would be open to discussing a potential plastic bag ban with them, adding that only one chain was open to discussions.

“Only 49th Parallel was willing to discuss it with us and it was just being open to discussion,” she said.

Manly said the city’s waste collection program does not accept plastic bags and that very few places around town do as well. He said it’s time for councillors to take action and said thousands of plastic bags are given out in the city each day.

“Grocery stores in Nanaimo give approximately 45,000 bags per day and that’s based on the statistics for the number of bags that are passed out in Canada per person … if you average that our per day for the citizens of Nanaimo that is what we are looking at,” he said.

Following the presentation, there was discussion about the scope of a potential ban from councillors, who wondered whether it should extend beyond single-use plastic bags. Councillors also debated about whether or not they had the authority to impose or implement a ban or levy. Staff members were unable to immediately provide an answer to councillors, who elected to go ahead with the vote.

Coun. Bill Yoachim, who made the motion, said there was no point of waiting for a staff report. He said the city should instead ban plastic bags from retailers and then figure out what it’s allowed to do.

“We have got to do what is best for the future right now,” Yoachim said.

Yoachim said the city must take immediate action and protect the environment for future generations. He said Nanaimo should be leaders and a plastic bag ban could inspire other communities to follow.

“Regardless of what we are permitted to do or waiting on larger communities … I believe we should take a bold move and show leadership on the subject,” he said.

Coun. Bill Bestwick said delaying action isn’t going to accomplish anything and a little bit of shock might.

“We need to start somewhere and pushing it off … isn’t going to get us where we want to get to and I think we have all witnessed what shock does,” he said. “So, if we want to try and get something done we should shock people with something.”

Plastic bag bans have been imposed in a number of municipalities in Canada, including Thompson, Man., Brossard, Que., and Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality, Alta. Victoria and Saanich are also considering bans and Montreal is expected to implement a plastic bag ban on retailers next year.

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterward, Manly said members of his group took the levy approach because they figured it would be better to have people slowly adjust to the idea of not using plastic bags. He said he was shocked by council’s decision to impose a ban, but is pleased with the decision.

“I was pretty surprised,” he said.


nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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