On March 12, City Council discussed the potential of banning or placing a levy on single-use bags in Ladysmith. Much of this discussion revolved around a report prepared for Victoria City Council.
So what is a single-use bag? A single-use bag is defined as a bag that can be used less than 100 times. The report estimated that the usage per capita in Victoria was 200 bags a year. Using this estimate and the latest population data for Ladysmith, it works out that we, here in Ladysmith, use 1.75 million single-use shopping bags per year — a volume that I find a way too low.
Earlier in the year, at a council meeting, there was a delegation that wished to see plastic shopping bags banned in Ladysmith. In their presentation, they indicated that the two local grocery stores handed out about 5,000 plastic checkout bags a week. But further investigation shows the actual number to be something like 35,000 a week. Based on that, it means our two groceries stores alone dispense 1.75 million checkout bags a year.
The report to the Victoria Council presented various options for Victoria Council to consider if they wished to reduce or ban single-use shopping bags. The following options included:
• Do nothing
• Voluntary bag fee, limited by local retail outlets
• Regulated plastic bag ban
• Regulated ban plastic and paper
• Regulated plastic bag levy or fee
If our Council wants to control or eliminate single-use plastic bags, their options would be the same. Remember, any action they propose would only apply to the stores in Ladysmith, as Ladysmith Council has no control over the millions of bags that residents get from out-of-town sources.
How many bags do you use?
Checkout bags are not the only bags we use. How about the plastic bags you put your fresh or frozen produce in, your loaf of bread or even the bag you put your bulk products in? The list goes on and on. How about the plastic bags we acquire from stores other than the grocery store? How about your dry cleaning, the bag your newspaper comes in or the garbage bag that goes into your garbage can? Even the bags the Town supplies for doggie poop. As can be seen, plastic bags are a part of our convenience-driven way of life.
Well, we can use reusable shopping bags. Many people have taken this step. One store estimates that up to 30 per cent of their customers bring their own reusable bags to their store. Unfortunately, they may not be the answer. Reusable bags can become a health hazard to you and your family. Health Canada says on their website: “As an environmental choice, many Canadians are now shopping with reusable bins, reusable plastic bags and cloth bags to reduce the amount of plastic they are using. Health Canada supports the proper use of these products, but it is important that Canadians use them safely to prevent cross-contamination of food with bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.” Additionally, reusable bags only make up a small percentage of plastic bags being used.
What about so-called biodegradable bags? At one time it was thought that biodegradable bags were an answer. Time has shown us that they don’t disintegrate if buried in the landfill, and if left out in the light, they bake down into small bits that don’t disappear.
What about paper bags? The Victoria report quoted a study that pointed out that paper bags have 14 times the impact on water quality and use four times the amount of water to produce them. Paper bags produce three times the amount of greenhouse gases and lead to three times as much waste generation than plastic bags.
There is no question in most peoples mind that single-use plastic bags are an environmental disaster. They don’t disintegrate, and they pollute our oceans and endanger wildlife, both in our oceans and on land. Plastic bags are a huge litter problem. It is good that Council is taking a look at the problem. Presently, they are seeking input from the local business in an attempt to help resolve this issue. Doing nothing is unacceptable.
We need to have a provincial or federal policy on the issue.
Past Ladysmith Councils have been at the forefront of many environmental issues, just look at the leadership role they played in organic garbage collection. I believe that Ladysmith can and should be a leader on this issue. Why should we jump on the bandwagon and follow other communities in their piecemeal approach to the problem of single-use plastic bags. Let Ladysmith Council spearhead an effort to develop a strategy that will reduce the use of single-use plastic bags. They can do this by forcibly raising the issue at various municipal, provincial or federal levels by calling for a unified policy controlling the use and distribution of single-use plastic bags, one that all municipalities will agree to.
At least that’s as I see it.