NEW GLASGOW, N.S. - Could plastic bags be banned next year?
Without regulatory action from the provincial government, consensus among Nova Scotia’s largest municipalities is needed if there is going to be a large-scale ban on single-use plastics by the end of 2019.
“We’re always going to the province asking for more powers,” said Waye Mason - Halifax Regional Municipality councillor and president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities - during a brief presentation Dec. 6 to the Halifax environment and sustainability standing committee.
“By working together, we can implement a province-wide ban, or a nearly province-wide ban, without waiting for the minister of environment and the legislation to take action,” he said. “This is in our control.”
At the Dec. 6 meeting, the committee approved a strategy that would effectively ban single-use plastics - like plastic-wraps, bread bags and shopping bags - from HRM by the end of 2019. In lieu of a provincially regulated ban, HRM could collaborate with the other nine large municipalities to draft bylaws aiming at eliminating single-use plastic bags as soon as possible, but no later than December 2019.
“We met, and all the mayors agreed that they will ban plastic bags this year,” said Mason of the federation’s annual general meeting in November. The dates of the ban are subject to change, but Mason said that a suggested date which came out of the November meeting was for a soft-launch July 1, with a hard ban Oct. 1, 2019.
“At the November AGM we agreed to support this and we’re awaiting information from HRM,” said New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks. "They have staff that are working on the details and they've taken the lead."
Consensus on complex issues can be hard to reach and the mayors will need to have the support of their own municipal councils for anything to move forward.
Some municipal leaders are expressing frustration at the province’s unwillingness to pursue of provincially regulated ban on single-use plastic.
“All levels of government have been dragging their feet,” said Wolfville Mayor Jeff Cantwell. Cantwell is also a board member on the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities. While he’s glad the ban is moving forward, he said he wishes it was province-led and had happened much sooner.
Jenny Postema, municipal clerk with the Municipality of the County of Kings, said that council passed a motion in March 2018 to “support a province-wide ban on single-use plastics, provided the initiative is undertaken by the Province of Nova Scotia and involves a promotional campaign.”
Province passes off decision
“Single-use plastic is all they’re talking about in Halifax right now. It’s a small portion of this film plastic, but it’s a start,” said Jim Ryan Mayor of the Town of Pictou and chair of the shared services authority (SSA), which oversees waste management in Pictou County.
As chair of the SSA, Ryan also represents the region on the Nova Scotia solid waste management regional chairs committee. Jan. 11, 2018, that committee met with the former Environment minister Iain Rankin to address the plastic problem and develop a province-wide reduction strategy. Rankin tasked the committee with returning to their own municipalities and bring forward a consensus on a province-wide ban.
Five months later, they reached one.
“We came back and said, ‘We have a consensus, we would like a provincial ban.’” Committee chairman Leland Anthony informed Rankin in a letter last May.
Solid-Waste Resource Manage... by on Scribd
In response, the minister thanked the committee for its progress, adding, “Nova Scotia Environment is investigating options to reduce the amount of polyethylene film landfilled in Nova Scotia.
Soon after, the provincial cabinet was reshuffled and Hants East MLA Margaret Miller took over as Environment minister. In October, Miller told the reporters that the province would not be pursuing a province-wide ban.
The committee sent a letter to the new minister for an explanation.
Solid-Waste Resource Manage... by on Scribd
“Municipalities have worked really hard to obtain consensus, not easily achieved on most subjects, to support the province,” the letter reads. “We were so disappointed to recently hear the interview on CBC that your department is not in support of a bag ban.”
In response, the minister thanked the committee for expressing support for a province-wide ban, adding that, “new innovative uses new markets for these materials” would help the province divert the plastics out of Nova Scotia’s landfills.
Margaret Miller Letter October by on Scribd
The responsibility for finding those markets lies with the municipalities.
“The province should be stepping up here,” said Ryan. “Especially after we were asked to do this as municipalities.”
The first of what could be ten motions implementing a ban expected to be brought forward to municipal councils across the province is set to be debated at Halifax regional council in January.
How much plastic?
Out of the province’s 50 municipalities, 41 have already made motions of support for a province-wide approach on a distribution ban of single-use plastics, or polyethylene film plastics, which have been banned from Nova Scotia’s landfills since 1994.
Nova Scotia used to ship this recyclable material to China. But, since the end of 2017, when China announced that it would no longer be accepting Canada’s film plastics, the plastics have been piling up and municipalities are having trouble finding markets to ship it.
According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia diverted 293,178 tonnes of residential and non-residential material from municipal landfills. Nova Scotians also use between 300 and 500 million plastic grocery bags each year, with only 3 per cent of that figure finding its way into the streets, trees and waterways as observable garbage.
With files from the Valley Journal Advertiser