Torontonians who have a habit of loading their purchases into plastic bags at supermarkets and other retailers will be in a sweet spot between July 1 and the end of the year; they will not have to pay the 5-cent fee (plus HST) for each bag as was required under a city bylaw that had been in place since 2009.
However, after January 1, they will no longer be able to purchase – or even get free – a plastic bag. This is all the result of city council’s decision last week, first to cancel the fee for the bags, and then to ban them altogether.
While we knew that council was to debate the cancelling of the fee, we are surprised, along with just about everyone else, with the seeming impulsive decision to ban the bags outright.
Mayor Rob Ford had put the matter of canceling the 5-cent fee on council’s agenda after he said he had received numerous calls from people urging an end to the fee. But along the way to cancellation of the fee something unexpected happened when Ford ally, David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), put forward a motion for a complete ban on single-use plastic bags that was then passed by council.
What was surprising is that this motion was voted on and approved by council without the usual debate and studies that such a decision would normally have to go through before a vote. There was no consultation with industries which might be directly affected, such as those involved in the manufacturing and selling of plastic bags, for example.
This was quite unusual, to say the least, and has left many wondering what on earth is going on.
This is a symptom of the dysfunction that is now permeating the atmosphere at City Hall with Ford as mayor. His lack of leadership skills and his apparent inability to build consensus are even losing him former allies.
After the successful vote to ban plastic bags, the mayor, who was caught by surprise and who has called the ban stupid, blamed Torontonians for not keeping an eye on council. But isn’t that his job?
We believe most Torontonians would support an outright ban instead of the current system where the stores are the ones making millions of dollars charging for the bag.
The other side of this, though, is if plastic bags are replaced with paper bags, there go more trees. We have to decide (or someone has to) whether replacing plastic with paper (and the loss of more trees in the making of paper) would make sound environmental sense.
While we cautiously applaud council’s move to ban plastic bags as progressive (in spite of the haphazard way in which it was done), it would be interesting to see how it would work. Would stores provide free paper bags or would they charge for them? Would all groceries provide empty boxes as some now do, or would they push the sale of reusable containers, which could eventually become very costly for consumers? And, what about stores outside of Toronto which voluntarily followed Toronto’s decision to charge for plastic bags? Would they now follow Toronto’s lead in, first, not charging for the bags until the end of the year, and thereafter banning them completely, or would they continue to provide them at a cost, having gotten used to the windfall profits?
It is truly difficult to visualize a life without plastic which has become so much a part of our reality. But we do understand the devastation is has caused to the environment. However, plastic bags are just a part of the problem. What about plastic water bottles? We see them just about everywhere.
Then there is the plastic packaging that we must fight with in order to get at our purchases and the Styrofoam placed in the boxes to keep it all together. What are we going to do about them?
In fact, we could go on and on about products and their byproducts that are, or could be, harmful to our environment. Where do we draw the line or is there a line that could be drawn that would please everyone? Probably not.
One troubling question, though: Seeing how our city councillors came to this decision, do we – can we – trust them to further decide on questions related to protecting the environment in a measured and thoughtful manner?