The potential ban on plastic grocery bags in Central Saanich is expected to stir debate.

Central Saanich takes first step toward plastic bag ban

  • Aug. 24, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Tim Collins/News staff

Central Saanich is getting as head start in debating the merits of banning single-use plastic bags in their community.

The District council this week debated opposing the continued use of single-use plastic grocery bags within the municipality. According to Councillor Niall Paltiel, who introduced a motion on the subject Monday night, it was a chance for the municipality to get out ahead of the anticipated discussion of the issue at the Capital Regional District (CRD) this fall.

“I thought we should take this chance to support in principle the idea of banning these plastic bags in recognition of the harm they do to the environment,” he said.

“By getting this out there now, it gives everyone a chance to breathe and consider their positions well before the matter comes up for discussion at the CRD and it will allow us the opportunity to consider what the timelines for implementation should be and if there are any exceptions that need to be made to any potential bans.”

Paltiel cited farm stands as a potential candidate for exemption from a ban, as he acknowledged the slim profit margins in place for many such operations and the impact that a plastic bag ban may have on their viability.

“We also need to allow enough time to consult with businesses in Central Saanich to determine what, if any, issues might exist if we were to go ahead with a ban.”

One of the major grocery stores in Central Saanich has already discontinued the use of plastic bags. Thrifty Foods moved away from plastic in 2009 and offered customers either paper bags or reusable cloth bags for their purchases.

“We did it back then and originally there was quite a bit of push back on our decision from customers, but I think most people realized that the plastic bags were very bad for the environment and accepted it after a while. Now it’s second nature,” said Paul Correia, Thrifty Foods’ administrative co-ordinator.

It’s not a position shared by Rob Woodburn, the manager of Central Saanich’s Peninsula Co-op.

“We already offer reusable bags and paper if customers request it, but at this point everyone in the industry has not stopped using plastic because there are pros and cons to that. A lot of people prefer plastic, and anyway I believe that paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic,” said Woodburn.

That viewpoint has been espoused by organizations such as the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, which operates a website in which they state unequivocally that paper bags harm the environment and contribute to greenhouse gases, whereas plastic bags are far less harmful. The site makes forceful statements regarding the issue but does not reference any scientific studies to back those statements.

And, in fact, the science may not agree.

Canadians use in the neighbourhood of 15 billion plastic shopping bags annually and those bags do not biodegrade; they photo-degrade, meaning that they break down into smaller and smaller toxic bits that enter waterways and have a serious impact on marine life, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

When the matter comes up for discussion in September, Central Saanich will not be alone. Victoria has already signalled it’s considering banning plastic bags and is expected to try to move ahead with a ban in the fall.

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