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Plastic-Bag Ban Killed at Council

With no ban and no five-cent fee, plastic bags return to being an unregulated part of Toronto life.

Photo by {a href=""}Daryl Schipper{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The long, roller coaster saga of Toronto’s vexed relationship with plastic bags took one last sharp turn today: council has decided to nix its plan to implement a ban, at least for now.

Earlier this year council passed a policy that states that single-use plastic bags should be prohibited. At their meeting today, councillors considered a by-law on the subject: the technical language that would have implemented that policy and turned it into an enforceable, binding rule. A few weeks ago though, two groups (representing the plastic-bag industry and convenience stores) launched legal challenges to that prospective by-law, protesting that it was created in haste and unfairly limited their businesses. And today, council decided not to pass that by-law.

The claim about the hasty process is, according to just about everyone, a fair one. Council did not hold public consultations on a plastic-bag ban before voting on the policy, which came about as a surprise motion earlier this year. It is unclear how much that played into council’s decision today, however: because of the legal challenges, council had to discuss some details in private—councillors spent some of this morning debating in a closed-door session.

What we do know: once back in public session, council voted by a wide margin to scrap the by-law, and endorsed a set of confidential recommendations based on advice from the City’s solicitor. Public Works and Infrastructure chair Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) told reporters that he hopes the substance of those recommendations will be made public “before Christmas.”

Representatives of the plastic industry who were at the council meeting today pronounced themselves pleased with this development.

So, legal details aside for the moment, council has a policy that calls for a ban on plastic bags, but no by-law implementing that policy—the policy has no force or effect. No rules will kick in on January 1, 2013, as originally planned, and since the five-cent bag fee was killed at the same time as the bag ban policy was introduced, we don’t have that either.

Toronto’s Plastic-Bag Saga

June 1, 2009: A five-cent plastic-bag fee [PDF], approved by council under David Miller, takes effect. Though it is referred to by many as a tax, it isn’t—the City doesn’t have the authority to levy it as a tax—and retailers keep the five cents they collect.

May 14, 2012: Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest) tells the Executive Committee that she’d like to consider a proposal asking retailers to donate the proceeds of the plastic bag fee to the City’s efforts to maintain the tree canopy. This reopens the whole issue of the plastic-bag fee in general, which Rob Ford’s administration uses as an opportunity to propose scrapping it entirely.

June 6, 2012: Council agrees to scrap the bag fee, but, in an unexpected blow to Ford, councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), often an ally, proposes that since council has already acknowledged there are environmental concerns about plastic bags, they just ban the things altogether. Shocking almost everyone, this new policy passes.

November 14, 2012: The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee approves language for a plastic-bag ban by-law, formalizing council’s earlier policy decision. Their approval means the by-law gets sent to the next full meeting of city council for a final sign-off.

November 15, 2012: The Ontario Convenience Stores Association serves a notice of application on the City of Toronto, announcing a legal challenge to the by-law.

November 28, 2012: City council considers the draft by-law that had been approved by Public Works, and decides to scrap it. Due to council’s procedures, which are meant to keep them productive and things flowing smoothly, it will now take a two-thirds majority to reopen the issue of the bag ban anytime within the next year. Council also adopts a motion advanced by councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), asking for staff to prepare a report on “the benefits and implications of a range of measures to reduce the use and disposal of plastic bags in Toronto.” That report is expected in June 2013.


  • Anonymous

    Oh. Great. More reports and consultations. Just what we need.

    • Anonymous

      All proposed bylaws and plans that get approved are required to be delayed for further study and then cancelled at least once.

  • Mare Ford

    Weird, the fee was removed, but most places still charge $.05 or more for a bag. Who saw that coming??

    • Anonymous

      Nearly everyone. That’s why Ford’s insistence on removing a bag fee that was working was so short-sighted.

      It seems the only reason he was pushing to scrap the fee was to prop up his ill-gotten and entirely false fighting-for-the-little-guy image.

  • Anonymous

    If this city spent as much time and money on transit as it did on reports and consultations we’d have a network that rivaled Montreal or Washington (face it, London or NYC would have been a stretch).

  • Anonymous

    It will take another full city election, not a by-election, before any plastic-bag whatever comes back on the table at city hall.

  • pee yoo

    Only a picayune paper run by an arrogant little American librarian would bother with stories on such quotidian tripe.

    David Stein

    • Anonymous

      Wow, David. You sure told him. He has, in fact, been served. Congratulations. We’re all very proud of you. Have some pie. You’ve done a tremendous thing today. We’ll be having a tickertape parade tomorrow in your honour: just show up at St. George and Bloor at about 2ish and we’ll kick it off. You brilliant little spark of light, you.

      • pee yoo

        Mike doesn’t write very good English, and I prefer cake.

        • OgtheDim

          St. Joseph Communications are American librarians?

        • pee yoo

          … and what on earth do you mean by, “He’s been served”?????

        • Anonymous

          “Doesn’t write English very well”
          No comma after “English”

      • pee yoo

        I’d hate to interrupt your Yoo of Tee studies, “mikehatedit”. We require millennials, brainwashed by tenured boomers, to remove future Tory gasbags from office.

    • OgtheDim

      As the story is in the Globe, the Star, the Post and the Sun…..what’s your point again?

      • pee yoo

        The point is, they are no better; the point being, we live in a petty little town revealed as such by its news outlets, some, real; one, The Torontoist.

        Compare our liberal papers to the great liberal journals of the world, such as the NYT, The Guardian, The Washington Post, … .

        Read those newspapers, and you will understand why all great countries have a great city. A country that regards Tommy Douglas as its greatest citizen is a great country? A city that calls itself “world class” is a great city? Have you ever heard NY, London, Paris, Tokyo, Chicago so describe themselves.

        We live in an emotionally stunted hick town. That is immediately apparent by its cowardly architecture, dreary theatre, mediocrity of an art gallery, punch-pulling playwrights, mentally-deficient city council … . Time for us to grow up.

  • Steve in TO

    Toronto is terrible when it comes to plastic bags and garbage. We should have 5 cent fees and tags for larger garbage bags. I don’t know why we don’t look at this sort of thing when it comes to raising revenue for the city. It’s environmentally friendly, and there is tons of precedent out there to look at for direction.

    • Anonymous

      We do have tag fees for bags that don’t fit in the black bins. We did have a 5¢ fee for bags, but it was a half measure at best, since it’s illegal for the city to collect that money.

      But terrible for garbage? We’re getting really bad about litter, but that has little to do with curbside waste management.

      • Steve in TO

        I’m saying I think people would be smarter about the amount of garbage they had to put out if they had to pay tags for every bag, like most other places do. We are terrible about litter, and we produce too much garbage because it’s cheap and easy.

        • Anonymous

          Residents pay for every bin’s worth of garbage they put out already. There’s an annual fee for those bins, and for waste collection.

  • Alex Meyers

    HA. First read that as “Plastic Bag Man Killed at Council” That would be about a homeless super villian.

    Soho! Black Bull!

    • Booster Gold

      Someone killed Plastic Man?!? Quick, call the Justice League!