Nfld. & Labrador

Banning single-use plastic bags 'a no-brainer,' says Sheilagh O'Leary

Following the cleanup of 130 tonnes of trash from the Outer Ring Road, Sheilagh O'Leary is again calling on the province to ban single-use plastic bags.

City of St. John's doesn't have jurisdiction to ban bags, O'Leary wants province to do it

City of St. John's Ward 4 Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary plans to continue pushing the provincial government to ban single-use plastic bags. (CBC)

Following the cleanup of 130 tonnes of trash from the Outer Ring Road, St. John's Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary is once again calling on the provincial government to ban single-use plastic bags.

When a bag blows, it doesn't decide what boundary it's going to go into.- Sheilagh O'Leary

O'Leary was one of 300 people who helped pick up garbage from the side of the highway on Sunday, filling eight dump trucks with things that had been lost or thrown from moving vehicles.

Plastic shopping bags were one of the most common things that volunteers collected, O'Leary said, which is why she is once again hoping the provincial government will take action.

"I'm so sick of seeing them. Not only do we have them collected at the landfill, but on the side of the road it was just horrendous," she said.

Single-use plastic bags are a common sight around the St. John's area, even making it deep in the forest and on the East Coast Trail near Robin Hood Bay, in an area that's been called the Plastic Bag Forest. (CBC)

"Buried in the soil, entangled in all of the shrubbery in the woods on the side there in the trees — it's almost impossible to remove."

O'Leary, who is also running for deputy mayor in the fall municipal election, has called single-use bags the "bane of her existance."

We create false boundaries, but the reality is the environment bleeds out beyond those.- Sheilagh O'Leary

The city doesn't have the legislative power to put a ban in place for St. John's, O'Leary said, which is why she's lobbying the province to do so.

She said she's constantly hearing from people who are sick of seeing the bags in the environment, and who are worried about the health risks for both people and wildlife.

Borderless problem 

While the city can't unilaterally ban them, O'Leary said a provincial ban on plastic bags is the best solution.

"The reality is, this is our province, it's not just our city. It's like many things — we create false boundaries, but the reality is the environment bleeds out beyond those artificial boundaries," she said.

"Do we care about the whole province? When a bag blows, it doesn't decide what boundary it's going to go into."

Ayhan Akinturk and his son, Ali, worked near Allandale Road in St. John's during this past weekend's cleanup on the Outer Ring Road. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

O'Leary said there would no doubt be an adjustment phase if single-use plastic bags were banned, but that many of the retailers she has talked to are supportive of a motion to ban single-use plastic bags.

Given the fact that Newfoundland is surrounded by the ocean, she said our government has a special responsibility to protect that environment, and she plans to continue pushing for the ban until it's finally in place.

One Edmonton group wants the city to ban or place a surcharge on plastic bags in the city. (Twitter/@grrbage )

"They say biodegradable but really what happens is they just break down into smaller micro-fibres, and that stuff gets ingested by animals, wildlife, marine animals and ends up in our diet," she said.

"It's a no-brainer, so we're just waiting for the leadership at the provincial government to step up and actually enact the ban that the membership at Municipalities NL have actually asked for."

With files from Jeremy Eaton