New Brunswick

Saint John's plastic bag ban just 1 vote away from approval

Saint John is one step away from a retail plastic bag ban. A motion to ban plastic bags in stores passed first and second reading at Monday's city council meeting. If it passes third reading in the next meeting, the ban will come into effect in July.

Ban will have multiple exceptions, including dry cleaning, bulk foods and tires

Plastic bags are difficult to recycle and have been ending up in landfills in Saint John, according to the Fundy Regional Service Commission. (Brad Janes/Fredericton Region Solid Waste)

The city of Saint John is one step away from a retail plastic bag ban.

A motion to ban plastic bags in stores passed first and second reading at Monday's city council meeting. If it passes third reading in the next meeting, the ban will come into effect in July.

All but one councillor voted in favour of the bylaw.

The bylaw will ban plastic bags, except when used for bulk food, loose small hardware items, frozen foods, meat, poultry or fish, flowers or potted plants, prescription drugs, live fish, linens, newspapers, dry cleaning and tires that cannot easily fit in a reusable bag.

The Fundy Regional Service Commission has not been recycling plastic bags since March 2020. Official Brenda MacCallum previously said it's been difficult to find a market for plastic bags, and they are not easy to recycle.

City commissioner Michael Hugenholtz told council the Fundy Regional Services Commission estimates that 35 million single-use plastic bags are used in the region every year, and the majority of those end up in landfills.

"They had approximately two full trailer loads of these bags baled up and stored on site for a few years," he said. "Since there was no market, those all ended up in the landfill."

Hugenholtz said the city will begin alerting residents of the ban in the coming weeks.

Mayor Don Darling commended the city planners on including exceptions in the bylaw.

"You're not going to have to walk out of the grocery store with your frozen peas in your hands or your fish in your hands," he said. "I think it strikes a good balance of finding some exemptions that are pretty common sense."

Coun. David Hickey says the ban is in step with council's vision.

Sobeys started phasing out plastic bags on its own in 2020. (CBC)

"Bylaws like these I think play a big part in our growth agenda," he said. "They increase our attractiveness as a city.  That is one that is pushing progressive policy. That is one that cares about our climate impact."

Coun. Blake Armstrong, who voted against the bylaw, did not provide a comment to council.

Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe have had a plastic bag ban since October of last year. If the ban passes, Saint John would be the second municipality in New Brunswick to enact this ban. 

Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all have provincial plastic bag bans.

With no national or provincial legislation, municipalities and individual retailers have been banning plastic bags on a smaller scale in New Brunswick. NB Liquor banned plastic bags in in 2019, and Sobeys started phasing out the bags in early 2020.

However, the federal government has said it plans to enact a broader single-use plastic ban policy this year, doing away with grocery checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, plastic cutlery and food takeout containers made from hard-to-recycle plastics.

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