In a meeting Monday, city council took a step forward on the environmental issue of single-use bags.
Development of a bylaw has been underway since 2017 toward prohibiting retailers from supplying single-use plastic, biodegradable and compostable bags to customers at checkouts, in favour of reusable shopping bags.
The bylaw will allow for some exceptions where plastic bags can continue to be used, such as transporting fish. Single-use paper checkout bags will also be exempt if they are composed of 40 per cent post-consumer recycled content.
The bylaw also prevents retailers from providing checkout bags free of charge and from denying or discouraging customers from using their own reusable bags.
“We really want reusable bags to be kept in circulation,” said Kirsten Gellein, city zero waste coordinator, in her presentation to council. “We don’t want compostable bags, single-use bags, plastic bags to be set out and … also within the reusable bag definition, we do declare that [a reusable bag] should be washable and capable of at least 100 uses to ensure that, one, it’s COVID safe bringing it into the grocery store and, two, that it can be kept in use many, many, many times.”
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she was concerned about the ban including compostable and biodegradable bags.
“That’s what we’re encouraged to put into our garbage cans and yet we’re saying grocery stores can’t sell them … so it’s kind of contradictory, No. 1, and No. 2, does anybody else have that in their bylaws or are we subject to another court challenge because they are biodegradable?” Armstrong asked.
Gellein said Nanaimo’s bylaw corresponds with bylaws that have been approved for other B.C. municipalities. She also explained that compostable and biodegradable bags should be eliminated from the city’s waste stream because, even though they break down in an industrial compost system, they won’t necessarily break down in the environment and biodegradable bags are not compatible with the city’s organic waste stream.
Taaj Daliaran, manager of sanitation and recycling for the City of Nanaimo, explained that much of the intent of the bylaw is to eliminate single-use products from the waste stream.
“Pollution is created for production and then energy is used to biodegrade them. It just creates more pollution and that’s what we’re trying to avoid … the main notion is to eliminate use of single-use items and focus more on reusing,” he said.
Daliaram also cited feedback gathered from the public and retailers in 2019 that indicated strong support for eliminating single-use bags.
Council voted unanimously to pass the checkout bag regulation bylaw through three readings and forward the bylaw to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for approval.
The bylaw could come into effect July 1.