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Single-use plastic bags are a municipal issue, not a provincial one — at least according to Environment Minister Margaret Miller.
Despite support for provincial action from Nova Scotia’s 10 largest municipalities, as well as environmental groups, the government has no plans to implement a province-wide ban on the bags.
“This is something we actually did look into and we found that of the solid waste, only two per cent is plastic bags,” minister Margaret Miller said on Jan 17.
“That’s substantial but it’s a minimal amount. We looked at jurisdictions that do the bag bans and we found that it is usually not provinces doing it. Only P.E.I. is doing it. The rest are all municipal. Muncipalities are taking this on as a local issue. We encourage people to use reusable bags and I think more people are doing that all the time. For now, we’ll be satisfied with that.”
In Nova Scotia, municipalities are taking on that challenge. Halifax regional council passed a motion on Jan. 15 to draft a bylaw by year’s end to ban distribution of the bags - but Deputy Mayor Tony Mancini says the province should be doing more.
“It’s healthy to have this conversation but we should not be having this conversation,” Mancini told his fellow councillors during debate on Jan. 15. “The province of Nova Scotia should be doing this.”
Mancini also said the Environment Department had seemed more receptive to a provincial ban discussion in the past.
Mancini said the chairs of the seven regional solid waste committees were 100 per cent in favour of a provincial initiative and the leaders of the 10 largest municipalities in the province, accounting for 70 per cent of the province’s population, and 85 per cent of the province’s retail business, have indicated they support a bag ban.
“We (regional waste chairs) had conversations and we invited then minister (Iain) Rankin here to city hall and we met with him. We said we had 100 per cent agreement and he said, ‘great, we’ll investigate it.’
“Then they had an election, they shuffled their ministers and the new minister came out and said, ‘yeah, we’re not doing that,’ with not much of an explanation. I think the comments were ‘I think we have our plastics in hand.’”
Meanwhile, the environmental group Ecology Action Centre has been collecting signatures. According to Mark Butler, as of Jan. 16, nearly 2,500 signatures had been gathered on a petition asking the province to act on a bag ban and to endorse Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for thin film plastics, a policy that requires companies that make plastic products responsible for taking them back and reusing or recycling them.
Butler said a provincial ban would ensure all parts of the province have the same rules.
“I hope that all the voices that are saying we need provincial leadership will indicate to them that this is more than just niche issue or a fad, that there is popular support for this, and, if done right, the impact on business can be minimal or even positive.”
Butler cited a 2017 waste audit by Divert NS that said plastic accounts for 21 per cent of waste in Nova Scotia, with thin film plastic bags accounting for four per cent of the plastic waste.
Miller said the province is willing to look at EPR proposals.
“A couple of years ago, we asked the municipalities to come up with ... some kind of a plan of how it could be implemented in the province and how it would work. We’re still waiting. I know that they are working diligently and hopefully they are very close to having something to present to government.”
The province, meanwhile, is moving to allow plastic, cardboard and newsprint to be used in waste-to-energy plants.
Miller has said the changes to solid waste regulations announced Wednesday will give businesses an opportunity to “create something useful from waste destined for landfills.”