Wetaskiwin to ban single-use plastic bags

Wetaskiwin residents will have to start remembering to carry reusable shopping bags, because the city is giving plastic bags the sack.

Council voted unanimously for the ban, which comes into effect on July 9, 2019

Wetaskiwin, a city 70 kilometres south of Edmonton, is saying 'No, thank you' to the single-use plastic bag. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Wetaskiwin, Alta., residents will have to start remembering to carry reusable shopping bags, because the city is giving plastic bags the sack.

Councillors voted unanimously last week to ban single-use plastic bags starting next summer.

Starting July 9, 2019, grocery stores and other retailers will be prohibited from selling or distributing plastic checkout bags.

The ban does not include plastic bags meant for produce, meat or fish, bulk and hardware items, bakery items, flower wrapping, dry cleaning, or plastic bags meant to contain dirty, greasy or hazardous materials.

After June 1, 2020, stores will have to start charging at least 15 cents per single-use paper checkout bag. Fast food and sit-down restaurants, food delivery services and mobile catering companies will be exempt from this charge.

The ban is meant to make the city more sustainable and divert garbage from the landfill, Coun. Patricia MacQuarrie said. When she first brought the idea to council seven years ago, it was "wholeheartedly turned down," she said.

This time, everyone was on board.

"I think we've got an issue with litter and blowing plastic, especially across vacant lots in our community," MacQuarrie said.

"There's definitely more public appetite for discussion around plastic right now, to reduce the impact on the environment."

Fort McMurray has similar ban

An "extensive" public consultation process was done prior to voting on the ban, MacQuarrie said, and about 400 people responded to a survey on the proposed bylaw. Public feedback showed residents still wanted to be able to use plastic bags for meat and oily or messy items.

The business community also asked for six to nine months to prepare for the ban because of time needed to phase out the plastic bags in stock. The timeline would also allow time for residents to get used to bringing their own reusable bags.

Surveys showed the biggest reason residents weren't using reusable bags is simply because they were forgetting to bring them, MacQuarrie said.

Coun. Wayne Neilson — who brought forward the bag-ban motion this time — said people wouldn't normally forget to bring their wallets, purses or credit cards to the grocery store. So while it might be easy to forget reusable bags at first, he believes residents will catch on once it becomes the new normal.

"I think it's just a very subtle mind shift in terms of 'I'm going shopping, I've got to take a container to bring my groceries home in,'" Neilson said.

I'm just really excited to see Wetaskiwin kind of taking the lead on something that not a lot of other municipalities in the province have done.- Tyler Gandam, Mayor of Wetaskiwin

Neilson said he expected to get some angry phone calls or emails after bringing the motion forward, but he says he didn't get a single negative response from residents.

Residents are tired of seeing plastic bags blown around into trees and bushes, he said, and keeping plastic bags out of the city's landfill extends its eight-year life expectancy.

Currently, around 18,399 tonnes of waste is sent to the city's landfill every year.

Wetaskiwin isn't the first Alberta city to ban single-use plastic bags — the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has had a similar ban in place since 2010. 

Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam says he knows it might be tough at first to change engrained habits when it comes to single-use plastic bags.

He admits he might be that guy juggling an armload of groceries through the parking lot, having forgotten his reusable bag at home.

"I think for some people it'll be pretty tough to make that change. Having the nine months time between when the ban takes affect will help ... maybe change the habits of some people," he said.

"I'm just really excited to see Wetaskiwin kind of taking the lead on something that not a lot of other municipalities in the province have done."


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