One thing I can say about banning plastic grocery bags is that you tend to change your shopping habits pretty quick.
I regularly shop in a number of grocery stores in Nanaimo, where a single-use plastic ban has recently been enacted, and I had become used to having dozens of plastic shopping bags accumulate in the cupboard under my kitchen sink for months at a time.
Bags stuffed with more bags would take up a lot of space in that cupboard area, forcing me to shift all my kitchen cleaning supplies to make way for the plastic monster I created.
But that changed with the single-use plastic ban in the Harbour City.
Since it was implemented, along with bans in about eight other communities in the province that have been given the green light over the past few months by the government, I have begun using two reusable cloth bags that I keep in my car for use when I visit grocery stores.
In the beginning, I would often forget to return the reusable bags to my car when I emptied them of their recently bought items in my kitchen, which means that I would have to pay 30 cents each for paper bags at the grocery stores that only ended up adding more clutter in my cupboards than I had to deal with when using plastic bags.
But, over time and after being forced to buy a number of paper bags (which are also bulky and hard to handle), it has become routine for me to immediately put the cloth bags back in the car when I am done with them so they are there for my next trip to the store.
I figure that it’s not a big hardship to subtly change my routine if it means that a lot of single-use plastic that I used to use (I’m sure I went through hundreds of shopping bags every year) would not end up in the environment.
After all, it has been estimated that in 2019 alone, more than 340,000 tonnes of plastic items and packaging were disposed of in B.C.
This equates to more than 65 kilograms of plastic waste landfilled per person in one year.
That’s a lot of plastic and, considering that it can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to for plastics to decompose depending on the material and structure, that’s why I’m pleased that the Horgan government is moving forward with developing a legal framework for a province-wide ban on single-use plastic items, including plastic shopping bags.
However, that is taking a long time as the legalities are worked through, so the province decided to take an interim step by changing the Community Charter to allow municipal governments to ban the use of single-use plastics in their jurisdictions on their own without first requiring approval from Victoria, as Nanaimo and the other communities had done.
That move has been welcomed but, as council members in both Duncan and North Cowichan have pointed out, that initiative doesn’t apply to regional districts, which would be able to extend the ban over much wider areas.
By leaving it to municipalities, particularly ones very close to each other like Duncan and North Cowichan, to implement their own bans, it’s possible that grocery stores just a block apart could have different plastic rules, making it confusing for shoppers.
Consistency is important when trying to get communities on board with the plastic-ban program, and having the same rules apply across many municipal jurisdictions, as regional districts can do, would go a long way to get people on board.
I’m sure it was likely an oversight by the bureaucracy in Victoria and the government’s long-term objectives in regards to banning single-use plastics are admirable, but more thought needs to be given to these decisions.