In a move that caught some city officials and the plastics industry off guard, Toronto's City Council voted to ban plastic bags at retailers effective Jan. 1.
What started as Mayor Rob Ford's successful bid to eliminate a 5-cent fee on plastic retail bags ended up as a complete ban — “the dumbest thing council has done,” Ford later said.
“While we're pleased that the bag bylaw has been rescinded, the bag ban seems to have come from nowhere, without any forethought or discourse, and it's a shock,” Carol Hochu, president and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association in Mississauga, Ontario, said in a prepared statement. “We are going to look at all of our available options, including the legality of the ban.”
David Shiner, normally a Mayor Ford supporter, brought up the motion during a council meeting June 6. Council passed the ban 24-20. The ban was not the result of a study commissioned by city politicians. Compostable and biodegradable bags would not be exempted.
Ford said there is a chance a legal challenge could overthrow the ban. City solicitor Anna Kinastowski, however, said in a newspaper report that a ban might be legally supportable.
The mayor also said on a talk radio program that citizens are partly responsible for the ban vote because they don't follow the council's policies very closely.
According to a report from City Manager Joseph Pennachetti, bag usage in Toronto has declined an estimated 53 percent since the introduction of the 5-cent fee in 2009. The city estimated that in 2008, 457 million plastic bags were used in Toronto. The current estimate is 215 million bags per year — meaning the fee generates C$5.6 million for retailers.
According to CPIA data, plastic bags in Toronto represent less than 0.8 percent of waste going to landfills.
“Plastic bags are not an environmental issue in the city of Toronto — they have a combined 82 percent reuse and recycling rate,” said Hochu.
Toronto is Canada's largest city, with more than 2.5 million residents.
“There will be no winners here,” said Marion Axmith, CPIA director general. “The residents of the city, the industry — no winners whatsoever. Jobs will be lost, and investment in the city will be lost.”
Axmith said more than 5,000 people in the Toronto area work in plastic-bag manufacturing and another 15,000 are affected by spin-off impacts.
Council member Michelle Berardinetti had proposed continuing the 5-cent fee and creating a program to encourage retailers to contribute part of their collections to battle an ash borer beetle that is threatening to destroy more than 8 percent of the city's trees.
The city of Issaquah, Wash., also decided to ban plastic bags, with a 5-2 City Council vote June 4. The ban goes into effect for large retailers in March 2013, and for smaller retailers in March 2014.