Nfld. & Labrador

Time to part ways with plastic, St. John's city councillor says

A city councillor is pushing for St. John's to become a vocal proponent of a plastic bag ban across the province.

Sheilagh O'Leary puts forth motion for council to join lobby efforts in provincial plastic bag ban

A St. John's councillor is pushing for the city to support a province-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. (Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba)

It's time to get used to cloth bags and stop filling up the province's landfills with plastic, says one St. John's city councillor.

Sheilagh O'Leary, councillor for Ward 4, is bringing forth a motion to support a movement to ban single-use plastic bags across the province.

While Nain and Fogo Island have implemented bans, O'Leary said St. John's has bureaucratic hurdles in its way, and a lobby effort is the best they can do.

"We have an environmental advisory committee who's been working on this for ages but basically we're flying on one wing," she said. "The bottom line is, we in the city of St. John's do not have the legislative capability to enact a ban."

The motion calls for supporting Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador in its pursuit of ridding the province of single-use plastic bags. Prior to that, Nain enacted a ban in 2009 and Fogo Island went plastic-free in 2015.

Tackling the bigger picture

"It's a great start locally," said Max Liboiron, an assistant professor at Memorial University who researches the cross-section between environment and sociology. But it won't begin to touch the problem on a larger scale.

"To our food web, that will matter to us. And to our sanitation and landfill, it will matter to those folks," Liboiron said. "But it doesn't matter to global plastic pollution unless a whole lot of other places do it, too."

Plastic bag companies will simply switch the supply of products away from places that enact bans, and funnel it into areas without restrictions, such as India.

Still, a city taking a stance on an environmental issue can have a domino effect with other cities following suit. Without a massive combined effort, a solution is impossible.

"I'm not hopeless in this case," Liboiron said. "But I just think the scale of this problem and the scale of solutions has to match up."

O'Leary points to one section of the East Coast Trail, known as the "plastic bag forest," as an example of the ugly damage the bags can do. Just downwind from the Robin Hood Bay landfill site, the trail is lined with more bags than trees.

"It would change your life if you haven't seen it," O'Leary said. "When you walk through the trail, it's absolutely atrocious, the amount of garbage."

No matter how wide-ranging the problem is, change starts at home with a shifting attitude.

"Personal ethics - that matters," Liboiron said. "How that travels through your life, your family's life, to your municipality… that matters."

With files from St. John's Morning Show and the Broadcast