Bag ban, more recycling on the table to keep plastic bags out of the dump, says Manitoba environment minister

As Montreal retailers get used to a new plastic bag ban in that city, Manitoba's environment minister wants to talk about how to keep the bags out of Manitoba dumps.

Montreal became first major Canadian city to ban single-use plastic bags; Victoria to follow suit

Five municipalities in Canada have banned single-use plastic bags. (CBC)

As Montreal retailers get used to a new ban on plastic bags in that city, Manitoba's environment minister wants to talk about how to keep the bags out of Manitoba dumps.

​"Ultimately, [Manitobans use] 160 million bags a year, with a high majority of them ending up landfills," Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires told reporters on Wednesday.

"And so I'm wanting to have a conversation with all Manitobans about some options that we can look at to remove that product from the landfill."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman told CBC News on Tuesday he'd be open to discussion of a provincewide ban.

Squires's comments came after a Jan. 1 tweet congratulating Montreal on its new bylaw banning single-use plastic bags and musing about Winnipeg following suit.

"Should Winnipeg add itself to the growing list of municipalities to ban these shopping bags?" she wrote in the tweet.

Montreal is the first major Canadian city to enact a ban. Victoria, B.C., is set to follow suit in July.

Four Manitoba municipalities have also enacted a ban: Thompson, The Pas, Leaf Rapids and Snow Lake.

Squires said she and Bowman had a productive phone conversation on the subject on Tuesday. 

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said she'd like to see the province find ways to keep single-use plastic bags out of landfills. (CBC)

She said the province's forthcoming recycling task force, which was promised in the throne speech, will look at options to move more recyclable products out of Manitoba landfills, including a plastic bag ban or expanding what kind of products can be recycled.

"We're at the very beginning stages of our consultation on this," Squires said. "And I'm really eager to have the conversation and I'm excited to know that this conversation is being met with enthusiasm throughout the province of Manitoba, including the city of Winnipeg."

Coun. Brian Mayes, chair of the city's Environment Committee, said banning bags isn't the city's top priority. He pointed to other projects — including the $1.4B upgrades to the North End water-pollution control centre — and said the city had mulled a bag ban in 2012, but decided against it.

"I mean, the legal advice the city has been receiving is that's a provincial decision. So if the province decides to go that way … we would be happy to talk."

'Divisive issue'

In 2012, Manitobans used 160 million plastic bags, Squires said — down from the 250 million used in 2007.

The bags can be dropped off at certain local spots, including grocery stores, to be recycled, but the city of Winnipeg doesn't want them in your blue bin. Squires said many of them still end up in the dump: about 30 per cent of items in the Brady Landfill could have been recycled, she said.

Mayes called a ban a "divisive issue," and said he wants to know more about potential "ripple effects" it could have.

Tom Ethans, the executive director of Take Pride Winnipeg, told CBC News Tuesday he doesn't think a ban is needed. His organization partners with Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba to run a plastic bag recycling program with schools around the province.

But Teresa Looy, a compost program coordinator at the Green Action Centre in Winnipeg, said Montreal's ban shows environmental leadership, and she thinks a Manitoba version could succeed.

"When we create a ban, we create an environment that makes it easy to make the right choice, and we create a culture where that's just what people do," she said.