Editor's Note -- this article was written for the Green Gazette, a Williams Lake based newspaper focussed on environmental and sustainability issues by the Cariboo RD's Tera Grady - the CRD Solid Waste Supervisor. She can be reached via email here
Bans on plastic bags are a hot topic in B.C. lately.
Several municipalities across the province are working on bylaws to ban single-use plastic bags and the City of Victoria has been leading the way. Their ban came into effect mid-2018. It was not an easy task, though. The City was taken to court by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association with the argument that B.C. municipalities do not have authority to regulate the environment. In the end, the BC Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City stating that municipalities have the authority to regulate business transactions such as providing a plastic bag to a customer.
Unlike municipalities, Regional Districts do not have the same authority under the Community Charter to regulate businesses, so Regional Districts do not have any of the same tools to ban plastic bags.
Plastic bags cause a lot of environmental challenges. While plastics in the ocean may be one of the main drivers for plastic bag ban trends, plastic bags cause other problems as well. Plastic bags are not allowed into curbside recycling programs, as they cause endless amounts of operational issues in the recycling sorting facilities. They can only be recycled at depots, which means many end up in the garbage because not everyone chooses or has the ability to take items to a depot.
When plastic bags end up in landfills, that causes problems too. For instance, the landfills in the Cariboo are exposed to wind and accessible to birds, which leads to a lot of scatter (wind-blown material). Almost all scatter is made of plastic and easily 90 percent of it is plastic bags. The photo below illustrates just how bad it can be. Scatter is cleaned up regularly at the landfills but can travel quickly and can negatively affect fish and wildlife in our region.
When considering plastic bag bans, we also need to think about the cause and effect of the ban. Banning plastic check-out bags would certainly reduce the scatter at landfills and keep many bags out of the environment. However, if paper bags replace plastic check-out bags, there would be an increase in the carbon footprint associate with the paper bags. If reusable bags replace the plastic check-out bags but are not used more than 100 times, are not made of recycled/reused materials or are not recyclable, then more waste would be created compared to plastic bags being used. Most bylaws being implemented require businesses to charge for paper or reusable bags to limit their distribution and prevent increased greenhouse house gases or waste generation.
There certainly is a lot to consider. The best thing individuals can do is to limit their use of plastic bags by remembering to bring their own reusable ones and to recycle all the plastic bags they end up with.
Learn more by following us on Facebook. For more information on the Waste Wise Program, call 250-398-7929. You can also find more details on Waste Wise activities and events at ccconserv.org.