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A shopper heads out of the Mumford Road Sobeys on Thursday. - Ryan Taplin
A shopper heads out of the Mumford Road Sobeys on Thursday. - Ryan Taplin

HALIFAX, N.S. - Robust pressure from the province’s largest municipality and a vociferous environmental group is not about to change the Environment Department’s direction on single-use plastic bags.

“This is something we actually did look into and we found that of the solid waste, only two per cent is plastic bags,” minister Margaret Miller said Thursday afternoon.

“That’s substantial but it’s a minimal amount. We looked at jurisdictions that do the bag bans and we found that it is usually not provinces doing it. Only P.E.I. is doing it. The rest are all municipal. Muncipalities are taking this on as a local issue. We encourage people to use reusable bags and I think more people are doing that all the time. For now, we’ll be satisfied with that.”

The Prince Edward Island government has passed legislation banning retailers from distributing single-use plastic bags by July 1 of this year. Retailers will begin to charge customers a minimum of 15 cents per paper bag at that date and the fee will increase to 25 cents per paper bag as of Jan. 1, 2020.

On Tuesday, Halifax regional council passed a motion requesting municipal staff to collaborate with the next nine largest Nova Scotia municipalities and to draft a bylaw by year’s end that would eliminate distribution of single-use plastic bags.

Then on Wednesday, Mark Butler and the Ecology Action Centre said nearly 2,500 signatures had been collected on a petition asking the province to act on a bag ban and to endorse Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for thin film plastics, a policy that requires companies that make plastic products responsible for taking them back and reusing or recycling them.

Butler said a provincial ban would ensure all parts of the province have the same rules.

"The province of Nova Scotia should be doing this.” Tony Mancini

“I hope that all the voices that are saying we need provincial leadership will indicate to them that this is more than just niche issue or a fad, that there is popular support for this, and, if done right, the impact on business can be minimal or even positive.”

Butler cited a 2017 waste audit by Divert NS that said plastic accounts for 21 per cent of waste in Nova Scotia, with thin film plastic bags accounting for four per cent of the plastic waste.

During council debate Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Tony Mancini said the Environment Department had seemed more receptive to a provincial ban discussion in the past.

“It’s healthy to have this conversation but we should not be having this conversation,” Mancini told his fellow councillors. “The province of Nova Scotia should be doing this.”

Mancini said the chairs of the seven regional solid waste committees were 100 per cent in favour of a provincial initiative and the leaders of the 10 largest municipalities in the province, accounting for 70 per cent of the province’s population, and 85 per cent of the province’s retail business, have indicated they support a bag ban.

“We (regional waste chairs) had conversations and we invited then minister (Iain) Rankin here to city hall and we met with him. We said we had 100 per cent agreement and he said, ‘great, we’ll investigate it.’

“Then they had an election, they shuffled their ministers and the new minister came out and said, ‘yeah, we’re not doing that,’ with not much of an explanation. I think the comments were ‘I think we have our plastics in hand.’”

Miller said she appreciates the argument that a provincewide initiative would get past the problem of patchwork and confusing regulation.

“I can understand where they are coming from, but it’s not something that’s being done across the country,” the minister said. “We are led to believe in many jurisdictions, this is the preferred course of action. It’s not. We feel that there are many other ways to encourage people to use reusable bags and we actually do have recycling programs that use the bags, even for a company near Halifax that uses it to make plastic furniture.

“We have a huge plastic problem but grocery bags are only a small part of that.”

Miller said the province is willing to look at EPR proposals.

“A couple of years ago, we asked the municipalities to come up with ... some kind of a plan of how it could be implemented in the province and how it would work. We’re still waiting. I know that they are working diligently and hopefully they are very close to having something to present to government.”

The province, meanwhile, is moving to allow plastic, cardboard and newsprint to be used in waste-to-energy plants.

Miller has said the changes to solid waste regulations announced Wednesday will give businesses an opportunity to “create something useful from waste destined for landfills.”

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