Iqaluit passes motion to develop ban on plastic bags
“It’s always been an issue on people’s minds”
Plastic bags in Nunavut’s capital may soon be a thing of the past.
Iqaluit city council passed a motion on Tuesday night to write a bylaw banning the use of plastic bags in the city’s retail stores.
Coun. Kyle Sheppard tabled the motion, which passed with unanimous support from council.
Sheppard says the motion is something Iqaluit residents have expressed interest in for a long time, but the recent community cleanup day inspired him to bring it to council.
“Anybody involved in the community cleanup can comment on the number of plastic bags found throughout town, lying in our creeks. It’s always been an issue on people’s minds,” he said.
This is not the first time such a bylaw has been proposed by the city.
In 2008, Iqaluit city council drafted a similar bylaw to eliminate single-use plastic bags.
Under that bylaw, retailers would not have been allowed to hand out plastic bags, but could offer paper bags or reusable bags for a fee. Plastic bags could still be used to package meat, fish and produce. Retailers who violated the ban were to be fined $100.
Although the 2008 bylaw received support from city council at the time, it was held up in third reading and was never put in place.
“We’re trying to rectify and revive that process from 11 years ago,” Sheppard said.
Beyond the plastic in the city’s streets, Sheppard said harvesters have told him about finding plastics inside the stomachs of animals hunted in the area.
“Anytime you’re boating now, you can see plastic bags floating under the water. I think banning them now would be a good step in preventing some of that waste going forward.”
Sheppard said he realizes a ban on plastic bags also raises the question: Why not ban all plastic in Iqaluit?
“In the bigger scheme of things, all plastics are an issue. But locally, we don’t have a straw problem. We have a plastic bag problem.”
There have been other efforts to curb Iqaluit’s plastic use. In 2011, Northmart started charging customers 25 cents per plastic bag, a policy that still applies today.
Northmart saw a 60 per cent reduction in plastic bags handed out in its Nunavut and Nunavik stores after introducing the charge. The Northwest Company, which owns Northmart, donated the money collected from bag sales to programs such as school breakfasts, community cleanups and scholarships.
Arctic Ventures, Iqaluit’s other major grocery store, started a 10-cent-a-bag charge in 2008 and immediately saw a drop of 30 to 40 per cent in the number of plastic bags it handed out to customers.
Both Northmart and Ventures handed out free reusable bags to customers before moving to charging them for single-use plastic bags, to encourage people to step away from plastic.
Baffin Canners and the Baffin Gas bar use corn-based biodegradable bags.
The federal government also announced its plans earlier this year to ban single-use plastics, including bags, as early as 2021.
Sheppard is hopeful the bylaw will pass this time around.
“I’m very hopeful. I know I’ve heard from a lot of residents before and after the motion was made. Nothing but support so far.”
City administration will write the bylaw in consultation with council members and is expected to bring it back for first reading in the next couple of months, Sheppard said.
Sheppard said he hopes the bylaw, if it passes, will be in effect by January 2020.
Debate on a bylaw happens after second reading, where council can then make changes or recommendations, Sheppard said.