Toronto has become the first major city in Canada to ban plastic shopping bags in a surprise city council vote that the mayor denounced as “ludicrous.”
Mayor Rob Ford, who predicted the ban will face a legal challenge, had asked city council to scrap Toronto’s contentious five-cent levy for plastic shopping bags. Council supported the mayor and voted to scrap the tax – but then also agreed with a last-minute motion to ban bags outright, beginning Jan. 1.
“It is not a smart move by council to ban plastic bags,” Mr. Ford said after vote. “I don’t think it is going to hold up in court. You can’t tell people they can’t give out plastic bags. To me it’s ludicrous.”
Marion Axmith, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, warned that the move would kill jobs in Toronto and said the industry would consider all its options.
On the other side of the debate, Emily Alfred from the Toronto Environmental Alliance said the ban is a sign the city is moving in the right direction. “It sends a clear signal Toronto wants to be an environmental leader,” she said.
Retailers were taken by surprise by the decision, with some warning the move will cost them more – partly to produce paper bags and also because of short-term lost sales if shoppers leave empty-handed without wanting to buy a reusable bag for their purchases.
The ban, which was supported by a vote of 27-17, calls for the city “to prohibit all City of Toronto retail stores from providing customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.”
“These bags are junk, whether you want to call them biodegradable or not. They end up in the same place: blowing around the streets or in landfill,” said Councillor David Shiner, a member of Mr. Ford’s executive who surprised many by introducing the ban.
“Let’s get rid of the plastic bags. Let’s make today a real statement. Let’s tell the industry that we’re not accepting your baloney any more,” he said.
Mr. Shiner said he didn’t know he was going to move the motion until partway through the debate. He based the language largely on Seattle’s recently passed ban on bags. Retailers will still be allowed to sell or give away single-use paper bags, he said, using the example of retailers such as provincial liquor stores and some department stores who already offer free paper bags to customers.
In 2008, Seattle council passed a 20-cent fee on plastics bags, but voters repealed the measure in 2009. In December, the council passed a ban on bags, which is set to go into effect July 1.