On Wednesday, a last-minute motion led the Toronto City Council to ban plastic shopping bags in this city of 2.5 million. On January 1, 2013, Toronto will become the first major city in Canada to pass a law prohibiting retailers from giving out single-use plastic bags to consumers. The move angered Canada’s leading plastics trade group and caused squabbling within Toronto’s city council, but it was of course cheered by local environmentalists.
The plastic bag ban came as a complete surprise to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The mayor had already asked Toronto’s City Council to rescind an ordinance that had required retailers to impose a five-cent charge for plastic shopping bags. The council then requested the mayor’s motion and voted to repeal the fee. But then City Councillor David Shiner, a member of Mayor Ford’s executive team, suddenly introduced the ban during a council debate. The council then passed the new law by a vote of 27-17, angering Ford. The mayor had requested the council to overturn the original nickel-a-bag levy because he believed the measure would not hold up in court, and he insisted the same was true of the new outright ban.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association slammed the decision, saying that “plastic bags are not an environmental issue in the City of Toronto,” and quoted several statistics on recycling to back up their claims. The Toronto Environmental Alliance cheered the move and said it would launch the city as a sustainability leader. Retailers, meanwhile, were left frustrated and confused. The country’s largest supermarket chain, Loblaw, eliminated plastic bags in 2007 and will not be affected by the ban.
Other retailers are accepting the fact that they will just have to switch to paper bags at a cost of 20 to 30 percent more. Few were pleased with the earlier five-cent plastic bag surcharge, however; one retailer pointed out the absurdity of having a customer spend hundreds of dollars and then be assessed a nickel fee. But according to Shiner, who is still surprised the ban passed, Toronto did the right thing in following the lead of other cities from Los Angeles to Seattle.