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Your Produce Bags Are Probably Safe From the City’s Plastic-Bag Ban

The exact language of Toronto's bag-ban bylaw is now public, and it looks like some kinds of plastic sacks are getting a reprieve.

Photo by {a href=""}nick_blick{/a}, via Flickr.

The funny thing about Toronto’s ban on single-use plastic shopping bags is that councillors voted it into existence sight unseen. They had no notion of what the exact language of the bylaw would be when they approved it on June 6—and, yeah, for something with such widespread consequences that’s pretty unusual. Today, the public can finally have a look at the exact provisions of the ban, and while they are pretty much as severe as expected, plastic aficionados will be heartened to learn that certain types of bags will probably still be allowed, even if the ban gets enacted as written.

Among the types of bags that wouldn’t be banned under the proposed bylaw are produce and bulk-food bags, bags used to “protect prepared foods or bakery goods,” and newspaper bags. The proposed bylaw also specifically exempts plastic bags that are sold in packages, for use as trash-can liners.

The ban’s language is modelled on the language in the City’s bag-fee bylaw, which required retailers to charge customers a nickel for each plastic shopping bag until council decided to rescind it in June. The bag ban appears crafted to outlaw only bags that would have been subject to that nickel fee.

The bylaw will go before the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee at its meeting on November 14. If approved there, the ban would still need a final go-ahead from city council. Unless council decides to amend the ban’s effective date, it will start on January 1, 2013.

There is some question as to whether the ban will be susceptible to legal challenges from plastic-bag boosters like the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. The City’s legal counsel, City Solicitor Anna Kinastowski, was reportedly wary of that possibility as recently as two months ago, but now the bylaw is going to committee with her recommendation, so presumably she thinks there’s a reasonable chance the City could win in court.

The November 14 Public Works Committee meeting is likely to be the public’s one and only chance to give deputations on the ban. Make sure to go if you have strong feelings.


  • walker

    I live downtown and walk everywhere. I reuse my plasic as garbage bags and shudder to think what kind of shape my groceries would be in in a rain storm or winter storm if I get caught not carrying my own bags. Can’t one go out for a walk with their keys in this town, pick up a few things and get a bag?
    The five cents should at least have me carrying a biodegradable bag, as it stands it’s just as toxic as the originals with the same amount of retail advertising on it.
    I don’t understand how this all got started, an example of politicians wasting time and money getting involved in things they really have no business getting involved in, when we have people living on the streets and lining up for food banks. I think we have more important issues to deal with. The status quo has a bad rap, somethings should remain as they are, or in this case were.

    • OgtheDim

      You can’t afford to go to the $ store and by a box of bags for $2?

      • Ken Holmes

        not the point. The point is that the bags you will now have to buy (brand new and in packaging) are replacing the reuse of something else. This doesn’t reduce plastic use or solid waste. It’s stupid.

        • Estta

          But couldn’t you buy them, open the box or bag, and use them as grocery bags on the spot?

          • vampchick21

            Some people don’t like change and will fight it until the bitter end.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, by banning the bags without much discussion and without any studies, they saved time and money.

      • Ken Holmes

        they actually aren’t saving anything. Not time, money, or the environment. Governments all over are passing stupid laws like this without study or a vote because they know that’s the only way. As has happened everywhere else there has been a ban, solid waste increases, recycling decreases, and the public pays more. In LA County, shoppers just went elsewhere and jobs were lost, In San Francisco plastic bag litter increased after their ban. In Ireland, sales of packaged bags went up 400%. Bans are about money for special interests (grocery industry and imported reusable bag industry), not about improving the environment.

        • Anonymous

          Way to take a joke and serious it up.

          Oh, and citations needed. Particularly with regards to San Francisco. I’ve been there three times since the first incarnation of the bag ban and have never noticed bag litter as a problem.

        • alex

          Sales of packaged bags going up would be expected. That’s not terribly interesting.

          The interesting question is did the sales of packaged bags + retail bags before exceed the sales of packaged bags afterwards.

  • wanderer

    I agree with reducing our impact on the environment and often use my own re-usable bags. BUT, every plastic grocery store bag I get is re-used multiple times (to carry books, lunch, gym shoes, etc – sometimes in that order), and when it is dirty ends up lining my garbage bin. Seems like a real waste to have to put garbage into a newly purchased, single use, clean plastic bag, which this ban seems intent on making us do.

    • Val Dodge

      You seem to be under the impression that you can use a bag multiple times if it’s given to you, but only once if you have to buy it.

  • factmanturneroverdrive

    I work in a bar and we are provided disposable cups from beer companies (Steamwhistle, Creemore) that look and act like plastic, but are in fact made from corn. Why isn’t this option on the table for plastic bags? Or is it?

    • Anonymous

      Corn plastic is only biodegradable in controlled circumstances – including a sustained temperature of 60° for at least 10 days – and is hard to detect at sorting facilities so it ruins any batch of regular plastic it’s recycled with. If people know a bag is made of corn and can only be disposed of as intended in the Green Bin, that’s fine, but in a landfill it’s the same as any other plastic bag, and in a recycling facility it’s poison.