As many of you probably know, in 2009 Toronto successfully introduced a mandatory 5-cent fee on plastic bags, which was promptly struck down in 2012 by Toronto City Council. The city then proposed a plan to ban the use of plastic bags altogether, but quickly backed away from the idea when industry officials - more concerned about their bottom line than a clean environment - began to threaten legal action.
Despite the fact that plastic bag use declined by 53% during the implementation of the fee, it was scrapped and Toronto was left defenceless, with nothing to dissuade its citizens from unwittingly carrying home their produce or other purchases in single-use plastic bags that may take up to 1000 years to break down. Despite the fact that many major grocery store chains continue to voluntarily charge the 5-cent fee and have reported significant reductions in the number of bags used, Torontonians are still using an estimated 215 million plastic bags each year, amounting to some 1,400 tonnes of plastic.
Yet, it's a different world now than it was back in 2012 when former mayor Rob Ford put the "final nail in the plastic-bag-ban-coffin" and opinions on bans are not such a mixed bag, now being put firmly in place around the world - from Kenya to Vanuatu to Chile. In Canada, Montreal's plastic bag ban went into effect on January 1st of this year, Victoria B.C. will follow with a ban on plastic bags for businesses on July 1st and Nova Scotia's environment minister says they are seriously considering one as well.
Following on the heels of Montreal and Victoria, Toronto city councillors Mike Layton and Mary-Margaret McMahon have finally reignited the conversation here. While McMahon has come down firmly on the side of reducing the number of disposables in circulation, the councillors will also be exploring other options, such as fees on single-use items and increased recycling.
While introducing fees and increasing the number of materials that can be processed in recycling facilities are steps in the right direction, at this point we need more than steps. As a recent article in Canadian Geographic points out: "By the time waste gets recycled, 95 per cent of the environmental damage has already occurred – in manufacturing, in oil extraction, in the poisoning of our rivers and air. People have to buy less." We can't recycle our way out of plastic pollution, especially when the global plastics industry has its sights set on quadrupling the amount of plastic on the planet by the year 2050 (that's right - the same year scientists predict there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish).
The zero waste movement is having a moment and, as councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon points out, there is no time like the present to act. If we are going to stand up to this Goliath of an industry in time to save our waterways and our planet, we need to act locally to have an impact globally. That's why a local organization called StopPlastics.ca has put together a petition and is launching a Toronto-based campaign to send a clear and concise message to our councillors: we want to put the plastic bag issue to rest in this city... RIP plastic bags.
Let's add Toronto to the growing list of progressive towns, cities and countries around the world who are doing the right thing. Sign the StopPlastics.ca petition (either on their website or via Change.org) and learn more about how you can take action online here.
This is a guest blog from @itsahashtaglife – blogger, social media manager and content creator for non-profits and charities in Toronto. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.