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Bid to ban plastic bags met with ambivalence in Halifax

Bid to ban plastic bags met with ambivalence in Halifax
Bid to ban plastic bags met with ambivalence in Halifax
Bid to ban plastic bags met with ambivalence in Halifax

A bid to ban plastic bags in Halifax Regional Municipality is garnering ambivalent reaction from the city’s business community.

After Toronto’s city council approved a motion to ban plastic shopping bags last week, a Halifax city councillor says Halifax should follow suit.

Coun. Dawn Sloane is expected to give her city hall colleagues a heads-up Tuesday of her plan to bring forward a motion next week to study a plastic bag ban.

“The amount of waste just from plastic bags is unbelievable,” she said in an interview Monday. “Most plastic bags end up in landfills and take thousands of years to break down.”

The bold move to ban plastic bags in Toronto began as a debate to quash an unpopular five-cent fee tacked onto plastic bags there.

However, the city was criticized for not studying the proposal first and faces an impending legal challenge over the ban, according to reports citing Mayor Rob Ford.

In Halifax, Mayor Peter Kelly warned against bringing in a knee-jerk policy on plastic shopping bags and suggested a longer-term strategy is needed.

Yet Sloane said most plastic bags don’t end up recycled and have a harmful impact on the environment.

She added that reusable cloth bags have become a mainstay of many shopping trips and that a full transition away from plastic bags is an attainable goal.

The proposal to study a plastic bag ban has drawn both praise and criticism from businesses.

“Personally and philosophically, I think it’s great,” said Mike Hamm, manager at Bookmark Inc., an independent bookstore in downtown Halifax. “For the longest time we’ve encouraged people not to take bags.”

While plastic bag use has dropped significantly in the 13 years Hamm has worked at Bookmark, he said they still come in handy when it’s raining.

“We always ask first if a customer needs a plastic bag and for the most part they decline. The exception is when the weather is damp. It’s just the nature of our product that when it’s raining a plastic bag does come in handy.”

Some stores in Halifax have already started charging customers a nickel for plastic bags.

Pete’s Frootique was one of the first in Halifax to charge for plastic bags in 2007. The five-cent fee goes toward the grocer’s green committee, which aims to make the store and its food packaging more environmentally friendly.

The charge doesn’t seem to deter shoppers from the upscale food market, however, as many bring their own reusable bags.

But Atlantic Superstore backed away from its policy of charging customers five cents for every plastic grocery bag two years ago after its plan backfired.

Meanwhile, Coles, Indigo and Chapter’s bookstores charge five cents for plastic bags across the country, which goes toward the company’s reading foundation.

Hamm said charging for plastics bags would be a nuisance for Bookmark customers.

“We want to make people happy when in our store, not aggravate them.”

For the same reason, Hamm said a transition period would be necessary if a plastic bag ban was approved by city council.

“We’d need some time to make the switch. It might encourage us to get some cloth bags made.”

Leanne Hachey, Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a plastic bag ban would have a major impact on businesses and consumers.

“This is something that would have to be examined closely in consultation with businesses,” she said.

While she said larger retailers would likely adjust fairly smoothly, a plastic bag ban would have a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses.

As for backing away from a ban and going with the less heavy-handed plastic bag tax, Hachey said Nova Scotians already have enough taxes.

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