Plastics industry urges council to rethink bag ban

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) is urging city council to reverse their decision to ban single-use plastic bags, but Mayor Greg Dionne says that’s unlikely to happen.

The not for profit organization, which advocates for responsible plastic use and innovation, instead wants the city to implement something similar to the Bag it Forward Program established by Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM).

Joe Hruska, the CPIA’s vice-president of sustainability, said he doesn’t doubt city councillors had good intentions when implementing the ban, but argued they won’t get the results they wanted.

“I just thought they were going backwards,” said Hruska, who outlined his concerns in a letter that appeared in the Feb. 10 executive committee meeting agenda. “Their hearts are in the right place, but they’re just not paying attention to the environmental facts of these products. Bans create negative consequences.”

Hruska argued that the main problem isn’t plastic, but irresponsible consumer behavior. He said too many residents take retail plastic bags when they don’t need them, then litter the street with them without caring about reusing or recycling them. He said bad habits like littering will continue, even with a ban in place.

He also argued that the ban would increase costs for residents, especially for those who reuse their plastic bags to line garbage cans.

Ideally, he’d like to see consumers educated about recycling and reusing plastic bags, something he said the Bag it Forward Program has done successfully.

“It’s the gold standard,” Hruska said during an interview on Friday. “It’s one of the most successful ones we’ve seen around…. Through education it’s changed peoples’ management habits and changed their behavior. That’s what we need to get people to do—to use these things responsibly.”

Plastic bag usage dropped by 42 per cent in 2017, according to MMSM’s 2018 annual report, while roughly 86 per cent of plastic bag users reported reusing their bags in some capacity. That last number is unchanged from 2016.

The Bag it Forward Program allows consumers to drop gently used bags off at specific locations such as local food banks, where they’re reused to create emergency food kits. MMSM also sponsored a Plastic Bag Round Up Challenge in 2019, where elementary school students from 166 Manitoba schools collected 1.2 million plastic bags for recycling.

Despite those successes, Manitoba premier Brian Pallister promised to ban plastic bags shortly after winning the province’s 2019 election.

Hruska also argued that the alternatives to plastic, like paper, are even worse, and said businesses should adopt improved reusable bags made from polyethylene. These plastic bags are 100 per cent recyclable and can be reused 125 times.

The bags are common in the state of California, which passed its own plastic bag ban in 2016. Environmental groups, like the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives based out of Berkley, argue that the bags take advantage of a loophole in the ban, but advocacy groups like Californians Against Waste say it’s still working, even with the polyethylene bags being sold at around 25 cents apiece, according to reports from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hruska said he’s received an email from the City of Prince Albert acknowledging that they received his letter, but has had no other correspondence with council members or city administration.

“We know it passed and we’ll see where it goes, and obviously we’ll see how the citizens react to it,” he said. “Right now, all of this is based on emotion, not science and facts. We’re disappointed that the politicians are not paying attention to that.”

Hruska’s letter had little impact on Mayor Greg Dionne, who said there’s no chance the city will revisit the decision.

Dionne reiterated that many Prince Albert businesses are already moving away from plastic bags, as are other cities like Montreal, which introduced a ban in 2018.

“I understand where they (the CPIA) are coming from, but we’ve been feeling a lot better about our decision,” Dionne said on Friday. “As you know, Sobeys announced (a ban), the City of Montreal has announced (a ban), so its starting to sweep the country. I don’t know what they’re going to do because soon it’ll be a country-wide ban. You’ve got to adjust to the market, and the market doesn’t want single-use plastic bags anymore.”

Dionne added that they have no intention of adopting the Bag it Forward Program until the federal government introduces their own laws on plastic bags. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that his government would ban single-use plastics by 2021 during a speech last June.

However, there is one area where the mayor agrees with the CPIA. He says too many residents are taking plastic bags when they don’t need them. Dionne said it’s frustrating.

“I was filling up gas and a guy in front of me had two bags of chip and a chocolate bar, and he asked for a bag,” Dionne said. “That’s the problem. You’ve got two bags of chips and a chocolate bar and you want a plastic bag that you’re going to throw out to go to the landfill? You could have carried that, but we’re just used to it.”

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