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Sioux Lookout wants to ban plastic bags

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The town of Sioux Lookout is looking to be the first community in the province of Ontario be put a complete ban on single use, plastic shopping bags.

The Environment Committee as well as council have been discussing the idea of a complete ban since 2008.  A proposal has been drafted to ban the sale of these bags, as well as free distribution, and has been presented to mayor and council for the first reading.

Some of the requirements to make this ban a reality, is a phase in period, public input from residents and business owners, as well as a set fine schedule.  The phase in period would last for six months, and in this time, only written warnings would be given, not monetary fines.

The fine schedule is proposed at $150 for the first offence, $250 for the second offence, and $500 for the third offence.  There is one listed exemption to the bylaw, which states that the by-law does not apply to the use or free distribution of plastic bags by charitable organizations that re-use plastic bags while carrying out their non-profit or charitable objects or purposes.

Although the ban will include all checkout issued plastic bags, it will not include the small bags used for meat and produce inside grocery stores, garbage bags, or pet refuse bags.  Suggested alternatives for the single use bag are paper bags, boxes, as well as the reusable cloth bags that are found in just about everyone’s closet.

The grade 12 data management class, with the help of the environment committee, produced and distributed surveys to approximately 40 local businesses.  With a response from 27 businesses, 20 replied that yes they give out plastic bags, and only eleven businesses were in favor of the ban.

The high school class also surveyed 271 community members, with a total of 195 respondents in favor of the ban.  Most preferred the reusable bags as an alternative to the plastic.

Many residents recommended charging a small fee for each bag, instead of a complete ban, but the municipality has no authority to establish a tax or prescribe that businesses charge a fee for plastic bags.  It would have to be a voluntary change on the part of the business owners.

Leaf Rapids, Manitoba was the first community in Canada to implement such a ban, with a $1000/day fine for non-compliance.  With a population of 500, the town purchased existing stocks of plastic bags, and supplied all residents with reusable bags at no cost.

Other communities in Canada and around the world have implemented such bans, or have taken other measures to ensure these bags stay out of the local landfills.  The second reading for this proposed bylaw will be in July of 2010.

– Ally Dunham

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