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Plastic Bag Ban on Its Way Back to Council

After an odd debate, councillors approve the bylaw that took everyone by surprise.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlostracco/2400289177/"}Bitpicture{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

No persons carrying on retail business in a retail business establishment…shall provide customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.

That, above, is the language that city council will consider at the end of this month when it is asked to take its final vote on the surprise decision to ban plastic bags [PDF]. That decision came about (to the amusement of some and consternation of others) while Mayor Rob Ford was trying to make plastic bags easier to get, not harder, by eliminating the five-cent plastic bag fee that had been introduced under David Miller in 2009. Council did indeed agree to get rid of that fee—but at the same meeting decided to ban the bags altogether.

That decision having been made on the spur of the moment, however, some procedural steps had been skipped over—among them, public consultation. Residents of Toronto had last expressed their views on plastic bags, their merits, and their downsides, four years ago, before the fee was introduced, but hadn’t yet weighed in on this new proposal. Today was their chance.

It did not go particularly smoothly.

“You are not our fascist overlords,” said Jessica Lauren Annis, one of the 19 people who registered to speak on the issue at today’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Meeting. (A few more were added as the meeting progressed.) And that captured the tone of several deputants, who were frustrated at what they perceived to be an intrusive measure. Several more were from the plastics or retail industries; all of them had concerns, ranging from the financial burdens of producing reusable bags, to job losses at plastic bag manufacturers, to costs for large businesses that already had several months’ worth of single-use plastic bags in their warehouses. The Toronto Environmental Alliance, by contrast, spoke in favour of the ban, and also suggested council consider limiting other kinds of single-use bags (ones made of paper) in future.

Few of these points for or against actually mattered for the purpose of the debate though: since city council had already debated the policy and decided to go ahead with it, the only subject officially up for discussion today was how to go about implementing the bag ban. This meant that many of the residents who came to speak had their remarks ruled out of order by meeting chair Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East). Individuals and industry representatives alike did not take kindly to this. (Gary Sands, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers: “With all due respect…this isn’t consultation. You’ve built the car, and you’re asking me to comment on the upholstery. I’m not going to do that.”)

In the end, the committee decided to approve the bylaw by a vote of 4-2; it will now to go city council for a final vote. In ordinary circumstances, that would be a formality since councillors already endorsed the policy position captured in the bylaw (it’s really a technical vote, this one, concerned the specific wording of the bylaw). These aren’t quite ordinary circumstances though, so nobody is ruling out another curveball just yet.

The oddness of it all was nicely summarized by Minnan-Wong, who said before he voted: “I am supporting the recommendations. I do not support the bag ban. It was done in haste. It was done without consultation.” Nonetheless, he went on, he was voting in favour of the ban because council had already determined this was a policy it would pursue, and he wanted to avoid the massive dysfunction of reopening debates that had already been settled. But then there was this caveat, as he added: “We’re leaving it to the private sector to save us from our own madness…by hopefully taking this to court and having it overturned.”


What constitutes a “single-use plastic carryout bag”?

SINGLE-USE PLASTIC CARRYOUT (SHOPPING) BAGS — A disposable bag made predominantly of plastic film which, regardless of a customer’s decision to reuse, is designed to carry customer purchases from a retail business establishment on one occasion only, but that does not include:

  • A. Bags used by customers inside retail business establishments to package bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy or small hardware items such as nails and bolts;
  • B. Bags used to contain or wrap frozen foods, meat or fish, flowers or potted plants, whether pre-packaged or not;
  • C. Bags used to protect prepared foods or bakery goods;
  • D. Bags that pharmacists are otherwise required to provide exclusively to contain the prescription drugs or other medications that they dispense, refill or transfer;
  • E. Newspaper bags;
  • F. Door-hanger bags;
  • G. Laundry-dry cleaning bags; or
  • H. Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for such uses as garbage, pet waste, yard waste, household organics or recycling.
  • I. Packaging that the manufacturer and/or distributor and/or shipper of the good used for the good prior to its arrival at the retail business establishment.

When would the ban take effect?
Formally, if it passes, the bag ban will take effect on January 1, 2013. Recognizing that this doesn’t give retailers a great deal of time to prepare, however, staff will be using a staged implementation plan. For the first six months, they will work on educating retailers about the ban; this period will also allow retailers to use up any stockpile of plastic bags they already have, so the money they have already spent on those bags isn’t wasted. Bylaw officers would be able to issue fines (the amounts haven’t been finalized yet) as of July 1.

How will the ban be enforced?
As with many municipal regulations, bylaw officers will be able to issue warnings or fines—but as with most bylaws, how much they do so will depend on how much of a priority they put on monitoring for this kind of infraction. As far as we know, no fines have been issued for retailers who don’t charge the five-cent bag fee, so until now this hasn’t been an enforcement priority.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    re: job losses, I saw this exchange on the twits earlier today:

    Mike Layton @m_layton
    Listening to the plastic bag lobby sell the enviro benefits of plastics bags is like casino owners selling economic benefits of gambling

    Nita Kang @NitaPoli
    @m_layton Sharp contrast between the 2 debates. 5,000 local jobs will be lost with the plastic bag ban and large increase in trees cut down.

    Any idea where this 5,000 jobs figure is coming from? There can’t possibly be 5,000 people employed by plastic bag manufacturers in this city alone.

    (Also “Single-sue” should probably be “Single-use”.)

    • Anonymous

      1. Thanks for the typo alert! It’s been fixed.

      2. The 5,000 number comes from Kevin Gaudet/Reverse the Bag Ban
      (http://www.reversethebagban.ca/job-jobs-its-all-about-jobs/ and in his deputation today). As
      described by him, it’s the number of people who work in the Toronto area on
      plastic bag manufacturing. How their jobs would be affected by the bag
      ban (presumably those manufacturers don’t just sell their bags to
      Toronto customers, and presumably some of the products they make are
      still allowed, as per that list of acceptable bags) is not at all clear
      right now.

      • Anonymous

        So who would be making the paper bags we’ll be using instead? Or are they going to drive them in from across the country?

        • Anonymous

          Oh, that old chestnut.

          The truth about plastic bag bans is that most plastic bags are replaced, not by paper, and not by cloth, but by… no bags at all.

          People start carrying things out of the store. People start stuffing small purchases into their purses and pockets. People start making use of the messenger bags and shoulder bags they carry anyway. People plan their shopping trips better so that they can make more efficient use of fewer bags.

          It doesn’t cause a giant sucking sound in the forest. It just means less trash in the landfill.

      • OgtheDim

        A few things about that #.

        Its not verifiable. The plastics industry throws out the number but nobody has a tally of manufacturers.

        It says “Toronto area” (which in the past has meant anywhere from Woodstock to Kingston depending upon what a lobby group prefers).

        Provide a list of actual manufacturers within the 416, and their employee #’s. Otherwise, its made up.

        • Jessica

          Kevin did not say that all of those jobs would be lost. He did identify how many people are employed in the industry in Ontario and in Toronto. Presumably, some of those jobs will be lost due to the plastic bag ban. It is currently unclear how many, but in these precarious economic times, why is council destroying any jobs? It’s shameful. It only hurts the poor and working class. Now they will have to buy extra bags to line their wastepaper baskets and compost bins.

          • Anonymous

            Glad garbage bags are 10-25¢ each, on average. Assume your humble working class home goes through three bags a week, that’s $15-40 a year, or 4-11¢ a day, or pretty much what they were paying (at 5¢ each) for grocery bags.

          • Jessica

            And the people that lose their jobs? Can they buy those back?

          • Paper bag on my head

            Oh, Jessica, why you go shill for such a bad industry?

          • Jessica

            Yup, making products that people want and use makes them a bad industry and using those products makes me a shill. What a load of anti-human bullcrap.

          • Paper bag on my head

            I know, the plastic bag industry is so pro-human:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch
            I don’t want your bosses’ plastic bags, Jessica.

          • Jessica

            I work for myself thank you very much. I just don’t want a fascist state that tells me how to live my life.

          • Paper bag on my head

            Jessica, you shill well. However, your efforts would be better spent shilling for something that helps people and the world, like more bike lanes in Toronto. Think of all the jobs you’ll help create at bike shops and manufacturers. It will make people like you and you’ll feel much better about yourself.

          • Jessica

            Spoken like a true fascist. I bet you feel good throwing people out of work. I feel fine about myself ’cause I don’t want to control everyone else to suit my self-interest/ideology.

            It will be interesting when the competitive productive class who has not been destroyed by the government decides to leave Ontario and you lose your government job. Good luck to you.

          • Anonymous

            “Fascist” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

          • Paper bag on my head

            Jessica, if you love plastic bags so much, you can still go to the store and buy them. Nothing at all will prevent you from doing so.

          • Anonymous

            Conflating the interests of business with those of society, without evidence of the economic effects, is a better example of fascism.

          • Jessica

            Government control of the free market is fascism. You just like this particular type so cannot see the danger. Say goodbye to your common-law rights. Oops, sorry, it’s too late, they are already gone. Welcome to the Orwellian nightmare.

          • Anonymous

            No, that’s communism.

          • Anonymous

            Requiring the government to enact law allow plastic-bag manufacturers to continue to supply bags below the (free) market price, for retailers to distribute for free or at a fixed price, has all the hallmarks of a command economy, such as a planned communist economy or a consolidated industry under fascist control.
            A plastic bag company that is faced with layoffs because it manufactures only the type of plastic bag that is supplied to retailers that is subject to the previous levy or the proposed ban is a company with a poor grasp of economics and capitalism.

          • Anonymous

            If this were a fascist state, you’d be dragged from your plastic bag factory and shot.

          • Anonymous

            When confronted by the actual cost of producing a bag (~5 cents), people stop wanting them. Funny, that: the product is only valued when people are allowed to believe it’s free.

          • Anonymous

            Put your hysteria away, the free market will take care of the rest:
            Is Toronto the only market for plastic bags in the entire world? No.
            Do plastic bag companies only make the plastic bags covered by this bylaw? No.
            Will demand for their other plastic bag products increase as a result? Most likely.

          • Anonymous

            and the humans that lose the earth, can we buy that back?

          • Anonymous

            If some jobs will ‘presumably’ be lost and yet it is ‘unclear how many’ jobs would be lost if any, what basis is there at all for saying that council is ‘destroying’ jobs at all?
            People who work in the plastic-bag industry ‘presumably’ also make many other types of plastic bag/product that will not be subject to the ban, in addition to plastic bags not destined for retail use.

          • Jessica

            Spoken like a true economic illiterate. Do your own research, I do not have time to teach you economics 101.

          • Anonymous

            And you apparently didn’t have time to learn. Prove that a plastics manufacturer will have to lay people off (if they’ve put all of their investments in the grocery bag business) and then maybe you’ll have a point.

  • Anonymous

    This report seems to be about a committee meeting, but I can’t figure out what committee. (Possibly on account of failure to read carefully?)

    • Anonymous

      It was the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. Not sure how this didn’t make it into the final copy – obviously a bad oversight – and has been rectified.

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t the 5000 people employed in the plastic industry still be manufacturing bags in categories A through I, most of which are also reuseable for various amounts of household garbage, pet waste, etc.?