Nfld. & Labrador

'Don't wait on the province': Another Labrador town bans plastic bags

The Town of Cartwright is encouraging other municipalities to bring in their own ban of single-use plastic bags.

Cartwright mayor says impact 'pretty insignificant' on businesses and consumers

Cartwright Mayor Dwight Lethbridge saysthe impact of a plastic bag ban on businesses and customers is insignificant, but the impact on the environment 'pays off in spades.' (John Gaudi/CBC )

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.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay's landfill site is home to a plastic bag forest. (John Gaudi/CBC )

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." 

Single-use plastic bags are a source of litter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (John Gaudi/CBC )

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.

Terrington Co-op's George Andrews says the simplest solution for getting rid of plastic bags is for the town to pass a bylaw or the province to ban them. (John Gaudi/ CBC )

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.

Terrington Co-op in Happy Valley-Goose Bay hands out about 20,000 plastic bags per month. (John Gaudi/CBC)

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.

Legislation needed

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.

A plastic bag blows down the road that leads to the municipal dump in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (John Gaudi/CBC )

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."

Plastic bags litter the entrance of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay municipal landfill. (John Gaudi/CBC )

About the Author

John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.