City council considers banning plastic bags

Whether Calgarians like it or not, they might be paying ‘tuppence’ a bag – a plastic, non-biodegradable, single-use shopping bag, that is – by December 2010. And although consumers could very well be buying birdseed, the point isn’t to ‘feed the birds,’ but rather to stop feeding Calgary’s landfills.   At this point in the process, Ald. John Mar said it’s but added he’s had the idea ever since attending one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s barbecues last summer. Reusable cloth bags were used as alternative placemats at their table settings. The rest is history-in-the-making, as come spring, at Mar’s request, council will examine the report then debate and decide how the city can best put its greenest foot forward. That could mean anything from taxing plastic bag users at the till to banning the bags altogether. “I’m for it to get rid of the plastic but what do we replace it with?” asked Calgary Safeway shopper Nicola Opsal. “We’ve got hundreds of thousands of students in this city who could probably come up with a better idea,” she said. She wondered if manufacturers instead of consumers should be charged, what dog-owners would use as alternative doggie bags, and if anyone had thought on behalf of the non-profit organizations that use plastic bags to deliver food. Fellow Safeway shopper Dallas Powers said he’s all for strategies to reduce waste but fears an alternative to plastic bags won’t solve the problem. “It seems like six of one, half a dozen of another,” he said if a return to paper bags is in store. “The perfect solution is to mandate and use biodegradable bags,” he said. He added that council shouldn’t be so preoccupied with plastic bags but should take a look at expanding Calgary’s recycling program to include a wider variety of plastics as a means of lessening the load on landfills. He feels good about shopping at places like Planet Organic, where he can take his own reusable containers to the deli instead of purchasing one piece of meat to six pieces of plastic packaging elsewhere. The Sierra Club Chinook Group launched an “anti-plastic bag campaign” last spring, and according to Waste Reduction Campaign Coordinator Grady Semmens, the public has “wholeheartedly” supported the club’s efforts. “If the city chooses to implement a tax on plastic bags, this could be an important new source of revenue for the city and it could potentially be used to offset the cost of the city’s new curb-side recycling program,” said Semmens. “Why not tax something that we want to get rid of as a way of paying for the environmental programs of the city?” As for Powers, he said he always seems to remember to bring his reusable bags to the health food store, but to Safeway not so much. “If I knew they were going to charge me at Safeway, I’m sure I’d start to remember,” he said. And if Opsal had to start paying per bag, she said, “No problem,” she’d be sure to remember her cloth ones next trip. If cases like Ireland are the norm, where according to Semmens a 30-cent bag tax resulted in a swift 90 per cent reduction in use, Calgary could soon be giving the green nation a run for its money.
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