City hops on the plastic bag banning wagon

City of Wetaskiwin hopes new single-use plastic bag bylaw will extend life of landfill

Following in the steps of many other municipalities, Wetaskiwin city council is looking to draft a bylaw that bans single-use plastic bags.

A draft of the bylaw, as well as results from business and resident surveys from earlier this summer, will be presented to city council on Sept. 24 for consideration.

The bylaw seeks to ban single-use plastic bags, some of which are still being used in large retail outlets, and aims to reduce the growing number of plastic bags littering city parks and the landfill.

Deputy City Clerk Jacqueline Pelechytik says the idea of banning single-use plastic bags was originally brought to council about eight years ago but at that time council wasn’t quite ready to “take the leap.”

“They wanted to look at other reduction strategies at that time,” she said.

Following Montreal, Victoria, Fort McMurray and some smaller Manitoba communities, councillor Wayne Neilson believed it was high time that the Wetaskiwin city council brought the initiative forward again, especially with the limited life expectancy of the city’s landfill.

“The timing is appropriate because we are having issue with regard to our landfill and anything we can do to extend the landfill from a taxpayer and residential perspective, we should,” he said.

Neilson says that the community will be looking for another site for a landfill once the six to eight year life expectancy of the current landfill is up.

“We are going to see substantial costs here, in launching a new landfill somewhere and closing the current one,” he explained.

“So if there is anything we can do to expand that expectancy, I see that as a good thing.”

At this point the City of Wetaskiwin doesn’t have approximate numbers of how many single-use plastic bags have been going into the landfill, or how many could be diverted from the landfill when the ban comes in to place, but this is irrelevant Neilson says.

“At some level the numbers are immaterial. Anything we can do, even to divert one bag or a million bags, is a positive.”

The numbers will become more apparent once administration has a chance to go over the business and resident surveys that were mailed out with utility bills in August, Pelechytik said.

“It is not something the city was tracking but we will get a better picture of the numbers by figuring out how many bags businesses give out in a day,” she explained.

The single-use plastic bag bylaw will have phases but at this time businesses are being asked to slowly transition by using up their plastic bag stocks and figuring out allowances, like providing paper bags to customers instead. Pelechytik says that they don’t anticipate many issues. For the most part it is about training employees.

“We don’t want a heavy-handed approach,” she said, noting that repeat violators of the bylaw would be fined through a fining schedule outlined in the bylaw.

Many retailers are getting behind the notion, including Wetaskiwin’s Wal-Mart.

“We will be following the rules that the city puts forth,” said Wal-Mart employee Tracey Worthington.

In the meantime council is suggesting that residents get in the habitat of bringing reusable bags or other items to carry purchases in with them to the store.

“As consumers we don’t forget to bring our wallets or our Visas with us when we go to the store so we are asking people to take something to take your groceries home in, for that to be a practice,” Neilson said.

“Will there be some inconveniences? Yes, but none that are insurmountable.”

-Jessica Jones, Pipestone Flyer freelancer

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