Retail and grocery shoppers in Toronto will have to pay five cents for every plastic shopping bag they take home with them starting June 1, thanks to a new city council bylaw passed on Tuesday.
The contentious new bill was passed on Dec. 2 after two days of debate and no less than 25 amendments.
The city plans to divert 70 per cent of waste from the city’s garbage dumps by 2010 as part of Toronto’s waste-diversion goal. Toronto officials say, last year an approximate 460 million plastic bags ended up in a landfill or as litter on the streets in Toronto.
Council also approved other packaging-reduction by-laws including a ban on biodegradable and compostable plastic bags, retail bags with rope handles or metal grommets by the end of 2009.
There is also ban on the sale of plastic water bottles at civic centres, effective immediately, and on all municipal premises by 2011. The city also wants retailers to also provide shoppers with alternatives to having the pay for a plastic bag by providing cardboard boxes or paper sacks.
Toronto Mayor David Miller said he is proud of Toronto taking the step to address the waste management issue and he looks forward to the future of not only Toronto but Canada too.
‘We did it in Toronto first,” Miller says.
“We’re taking this nationally. It’s going to be all over Canada,” he said in an interview with the Daily Planet.
However, there are many critics of the by-law who argue Toronto will not directly profit since all the money collected from the bag fee will go directly to stores.
“Consumers are already paying as it is,” Ward 16 Councillor Karen Stintz said. “The cost of food is an overhead cost and part of it is because of the bags.”
Stintz was one of the 13 who voted against the fee verses the 30 who voted in favour of it. A voluntary fee would be a better choice as the mandatory fee will cause more problems, she said.
However, the by-law does not promise the money collected from the bag fee will be used for environmental charities and groups.
“It’s the grocers that benefit from the money,” Stintz said. “There is no guarantee of environmental initiative from them.”
A spokeswoman for Sobeys Ontario division, Tracy Chisholm, said the matter is not about the fee but about doing the right thing for the environment and reducing bags from the waste stream.
“Whether you’re a food retailer or not, the plan is really for everyone,” she said. “So everyone can work actively for the city of Toronto.”
Miller said the critic’s argument is “incomprehensible.”
“Previously, plastic bags were giving out for free,” Miller said. “They’re not free and they cause significant waste problems and the cost the city millions of dollars per year.”