Regina has voted out plastic bags but COVID-19 is delaying their demise

The City of Regina voted this week to ban plastic bags in the city but the COVID-19 pandemic means residents and businesses will not notice any time soon.

Plastic bag bylaw will come into effect 1 year after it's approved but will not happen during pandemic

The City of Regina has voted to ban plastic bags but that ban will not be implemented until after the COVID-19 pandemic has been contained. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The City of Regina voted to ban plastic bags from the city this week, but the COVID-19 pandemic means residents and businesses will not notice any time soon.

Council voted in favour of the ban at its Wednesday meeting. The city solicitor has been tasked with drafting a bylaw to go before council at the end of July. It will then come into effect one year after it has been approved by city council.

But the bylaw will not come into effect during the COVID-19 pandemic or any sort of public health emergency, Coun. Bob Hawkins said.

The one-year grace period will allow the city to prepare education materials for the public as they prepare to make the transition away from plastic bags, as well.

The bag ban "is something that the public wants; our surveys showed that," Hawkins said on Thursday. "It's something that will improve the environment. It's something that will reduce litter in Regina."

The Retail Council of Canada said it generally supports the idea and ban, outside of the pandemic. The possibility of cross-contamination is now a threat when exchanging items such as reusable bags, for example.

Retailers are currently being discouraged from the handling of reusable bags during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to John Graham, the director of government relations with the Retail Council of Canada for the Prairie region. 

He says the objective behind the measure is to reduce the number of points that a contaminated item could contact when someone is shopping, which would protect employees and shoppers.

But he says rather than a municipal ban, a broader, uniform set of standards would be preferable for businesses when it comes to plastic bags, he added.

"From an operational standpoint, it's far easier for retailers to implement one consistent regulation, as opposed to town-by-town, city-by-city bylaws," Graham said.

Regina is not the first city to ban plastic bags in Saskatchewan as a way to reduce waste. Prince Albert's city council made the move to ban them last year and finalized the details in January.

Single-use plastics account for about one per cent of the overall waste that makes its way into Regina's landfill, the city says.

Reducing the amount of plastic bags is an important step in attaining a more sustainable city as the City of Regina has set a goal to divert 65 per cent of household waste away from landfills, Hawkins said.

"It's going to be increasingly difficult for us to send single-use plastics like plastic bags offshore to places like the Philippines or China," Hawkins added, which is another reason for moving toward greener pastures.

Even if plastic bags are repurposed or reused, they eventually end up in the landfill anyway, Hawkins added.

"You see them in the streets and you see them stuck in trees," Mayor Michael Fougere said. "Just a nuisance in many, many areas."


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