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Bag Ban: Group says communities don’t have to wait for governments to do something

While governments figure out what to do about single-use plastic bags, a committee at an Annapolis Royal church is gathering reusable bags and dropping them off at a local grocery store where customers have been quick to use them over plastic.
While governments figure out what to do about single-use plastic bags, a committee at an Annapolis Royal church is gathering reusable bags and dropping them off at a local grocery store where customers have been quick to use them over plastic. - Lawrence Powell
ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. —

While municipal politicians are contemplating what to do about single-use plastic bags, members of a group at a local church are taking matters into their own hands.

Communities don’t need to wait for governments to act on the issue, said Judith Luther-Wilder of the Church in Action committee at St. George and St. Andrew United Church. Her group collected 300 reusable bags, got a local grocery store on board, and stuffed a bin with 300 of those more environmentally friendly bags.

They went like hotcakes. So, she posted on Facebook appealing to the public for some assistance.

“Help! We are victims of our own success and possibly lack of optimism,” she said. “The 300 bags Church in Action placed in the bag bin at the Independent Grocery Store yesterday were all picked up between noon and 7 p.m.”

She had thought either through of lack of interest or because shoppers might already have their own reusable bags, 300 would carry them for a week.

“Happily, there was greater interest than I anticipated and unhappily, yesterday's full bin is completely empty,” she wrote.

She dropped off 40 or 50 more bags but they were snatched up in no time. Now the group is looking for more.

“If you, your neighbours, distant relatives, current or ex wives and husbands, and/or friends that are fanatic environmentalists happen to have 2 - 1000 CLEAN reusable bags cluttering up their pantries, please drop them off at Bainton's (book store) or the Independent,” she said.

Municipal Action

The issue of what to do about single-use plastic bags isn’t a new topic, but recently Halifax Regional Municipality’s council directed staff to draft a bylaw to eliminate their distribution.

Annapolis Royal’s Mayor Bill MacDonald said it’s an issue his council has also been dealing with.

“We as a council wrote to the province encouraging a provincewide ban on single-use plastic bags,” he said. “We got a response from the province saying, ‘thank you but no.’”

A provincewide ban is the approach the Retail Council of Canada suggests so there is consistency for businesses.

In a letter to then minister of Environment Iain Rankin almost a year ago, MacDonald said “I am writing to voice our (council’s) support for a provincial ban on single-use plastic bags.”

He told the minister with more awareness than ever about the impacts of plastic on the environment, now is the time to take proactive steps that will have positive impacts in the long-term.

“Our community members have repeatedly requested that we, as a municipal government, ban single-use plastic bags,” MacDonald said. “After discussion, council has determined that while they support the idea of a ban, it is a measure that needs to be driven at a provincial level. We encourage you to consider such action.”

Rankin thanked MacDonald for his letter but made no commitments.

“I encourage all Nova Scotians to use reusable bags and reduce their use of these materials whenever possible,” he said. “Nova Scotia Environment is investigating options to reduce the amount of polyethylene film landfilled in Nova Scotia.”

Re-examine

MacDonald said both town council and its environmental advisory committee have had representations made to them from residents who want the town to re-examine the idea of a local ban on single-use plastic bags.

“The town is revisiting the issue,” MacDonald said. “It’s still a concern of ours, so the environmental advisory committee has been asked by council to put together a report with respect to all the information to present to council. I sit as an ex officio member of the environmental advisory committee. One of my tasks will be to reach out to other leaders of municipalities in the region to see if we can’t regionally come together.”

Bigger Problem

Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski said there’s a lot more that needs to be done than just ban single-use plastic bags.

“I think it’s a good step, but I think it’s only a good step if it’s part of a larger concerted effort to deal with plastic waste,” Habinski said. “There’s a danger with this … and the danger is that you can think you’ve done what you needed to do, but frankly plastic bags only account for about two per cent of plastic waste. And it’s the two per cent that you can get at by regulating consumers.”

He said he thinks there’s a danger that a government can feel ‘we’ve done our bit now we’ve dealt with plastic bags.’

“All levels of government need to be bold and consider the source of the waste in the first place, and the much bolder (issue) in dealing with producers. It’s no longer an option, it’s a necessity to consider these things.”

Habinski said he wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the issue come up as a topic of discussion at council.

“I think council, generally speaking, is in favour of the notion. We’d have to talk about the logistics of it.”

Eliminate Plastic

Meanwhile the Church in Action committee has already switched from plastic to glass at the church, opting for pitchers of milk instead of plastic creamers, real glasses instead of plastic, as they try to eliminate plastic wherever possible.

Members are also making their own reusable shopping bags and will be setting up to sell them at the local farm market when it reopens in May.

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