Nova Scotia·Waves of Change

Plastic bag ban must come from province, says retail industry

It appears a provincewide ban on plastic shopping bags in Nova Scotia isn't coming any time soon. According to a report before Halifax regional council in January, Nova Scotians use between 300 million and 500 million plastic shopping bags every year.

'If you are going to do a ban, it has to be provincewide,' says Atlantic director of Retail Council of Canada

A plastic shopping bag is seen discarded on a sidewalk. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.

A national association that represents the interests of Canadian retailers is calling on the Nova Scotia government to consider a provincewide ban on plastic shopping bags, saying anything else creates an uneven playing field for businesses.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the non-profit Retail Council of Canada, said municipal governments that introduce their own bans may have good intentions, but they are unwittingly causing problems for large chains with locations across the province.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada, says his group would not be opposed to Nova Scotia introducing a ban on single-use plastic bags like P.E.I. is doing. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

"You could have a retailer who has a store in Wolfville and another in Kentville, and let's say Wolfville decides to ban plastic bags and Kentville decides not to do anything about it, then you have people potentially changing where they shop over a decision as simple as who has plastic bags and who doesn't," said Cormier.

He said the government should take "a hard look" at P.E.I.'s efforts to ban most single-use plastic bags beginning next July.

The Plastic Bag Reduction Act will mostly ban bags used in store checkout lines and takeout food orders. Customers will be given the option to buy recyclable paper bags at a cost of no less than 15 cents and reusable bags at no less than $1.

"If you are going to do a ban, it has to be provincewide," said Cormier.

N.S. not considering ban, says minister

Nova Scotia's environment minister said the government hasn't considered introducing a similar ban.

Margaret Miller said Nova Scotians are already doing a good job when it comes to using reusable bags and refusing single-use plastic bags when they buy their groceries. Companies in the province are also recycling plastics, she said.

"People are being very innovative in Nova Scotia and there are all kinds of solutions out there without bringing in a broad-based ban," said Miller.

According to a report before Halifax regional council in January, Nova Scotians use between 300 million and 500 million plastic shopping bags every year.

Sobeys stores in Nova Scotia distribute single-use shopping bags to their customers. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Those numbers prompted Halifax Mayor Mike Savage to write a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil in February, outlining the city's approach to managing plastic shopping bags.

"I also wish to express Halifax Regional Municipality's support for a provincial ban on retail plastic bags," the letter stated.

"Nova Scotia has long been recognized as a leader in solid waste-resource management, both in Canada and internationally. You now have an opportunity to reaffirm Nova Scotia's bold leadership in this area."

There are a few exceptions in Nova Scotia where plastic shopping bags are not used.

The Atlantic Superstore on Quinpool Road in Halifax has been free of plastic bags since 2007, though the retailer's 28 other locations continue to use single-use bags.

At Pete's Frootique locations in Halifax and Bedford, single-use bags are not used. The stores, which are owned by Sobeys, started offering paper bags to customers in 2016 at a 25-cent charge, but other Sobeys stores in the province still offer plastic bags.

This Atlantic Superstore location on Quinpool Road in Halifax stopped offering single-use bags years ago. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)
Pete's Frootique, which is owned by Sobeys, offers paper bags to shoppers at its locations in Halifax and Bedford, N.S. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Savage said he'd prefer to see the province introduce a ban. Otherwise, the city is prepared to act. 

"We know plastics are providing tremendous environmental degradation here on the coast, particularly in our oceans and on marine life," said Savage.

"Something has to be done and if it's something the province wants to be the lead on, then that's great. If not, then we are going to have a conversation at council."

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