'Don't wait on the province': Another Labrador town bans plastic bags
Cartwright mayor says impact 'pretty insignificant' on businesses and consumers
Last December, Cartwright's town council voted unanimously to ban the single-use plastic bag in an effort to curb littering in the town.
Mayor Dwight Lethbridge said a precedent had already been set on Labrador's north coast when Nunatsiavut communities banned the plastic bag several years ago. In 2009, Nain became one of the first communities in the province to ban the bag.
He said council wanted to do their part for the environment.
"We've got a smaller population, but this time of year once the ditches start thawing out, you start seeing your winter's collection of litter. But where we really noticed it was down around the landfill out in the woods, a little plastic bag forest kinda thing," Lethbridge said in a CBC Labrador Morning interview.
In past years, he said crews spent time picking plastic bags out of bushes and trees around the dump.
Lethbridge hopes to see a big reduction in litter around the community now that they're banned.
"Globally, we know that plastic is a huge problem, breaking down in the oceans to the point where it can't break down anymore but it's still toxic. So, just doing our part on a global scale," he said.
He says the impact of a plastic ban is "pretty insignificant" on businesses and consumers, although there was a bit of an adjustment getting used to using paper or reusable bags, as well as boxes.
"I can honestly say as the mayor there's been no backlash for the council," he said.
Not that complicated
In a statement, the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay says council is looking at the plastic bag issue.
"Council and staff are working to determine the best approach for local businesses and residents on finding alternative solutions which will improve our community and the environment."
Resident Graham Moorhouse says he's in favour of banning the plastic bag, and that Happy Valley-Goose Bay should take the lead.
"We love our environment, and if enough communities do it then the province will be forced into it. If we start it, maybe it will be the start of something big," he said.
In Cartwright, Lethbridge explained that with only a couple of meetings council had a plastic bag bylaw drafted and passed.
"I think anybody who's not banning the bags are just thinking about it a little too much," he said.
Town bylaw or provincial ban easiest solution
George Andrews, president of the board at Terrington Co-op in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, says about 20,000 bags are handed out each month at the store. Buying them costs the co-op between $35,000-$40,000 a year.
About two years ago, he says, the town approached him to talk about the plastic bag issue.
"I posed the suggestion to the town, to the mayor and the councillors that were present at the meeting, that the simplest solution from our perspective is that we be told that bags are being banned," he said.
If we start it, maybe it will be the start of something big.- Graham Moorhouse
The Co-op and other retailers would have no choice but to comply with a town bylaw or provincial ban, he said. But that hasn't happened.
He worries customers would shop at competing grocery stores if the co-op banned the bag without other retailers being on board, but a ban would level the playing field for everyone.
That said, if a co-op member tables the plastic bag ban at an annual general meeting, Andrews said the board would have to look at it.
He said an environmental committee formed in the past year has looked at alternatives like paper bags and foldable plastic crates, and they've given out reusable bags and talked about going bagless for a period of time.
Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador president Tony Keats says the province must ban the bag. He says downloading the responsibility onto municipalities would cost taxpayers more.
"Municipalities, we just don't have the administrative capacity to implement or enforce the ban," he said, noting 74 per cent of municipalities have one or fewer staff members to enforce a ban.
While he applauds communities that have banned the bag — in addition to Nunatsiavut communities and Cartwright, Fogo has a ban in place — Keats said the province should bring in regulations that are the same for everyone.
We just don't have the administrative capacity to implement or enforce the ban.- Tony Keats
Lethbridge has some advice for other municipalities on a bag bylaw.
"To other councils who haven't done this kind of thing, and are maybe waiting on the province to do it — don't wait on the province. Go ahead and do it."