Plastic industry wants Montreal suburb to halt proposed bag ban

Canadian Plastic Bag Association calls proposed bylaw

Big Plastic is laying down the legal gauntlet against a Montreal suburb that is looking at banning plastic bags later this year.

The Canadian Plastic Bag Association served the City of Brossard with a legal letter on Thursday demanding it back off on its proposed shopping-bag bylaw.

Officials in the town are expected to pass a bylaw next Tuesday that would see a ban come into effect by September.

The association called for consultations, suggesting the bylaw is "abusive and unreasonable,'' is based on faulty information and doesn't consider the negative impacts of a ban.

"All stakeholders—even those most negatively affected by a ban like convenience store owners, retailers and bag manufacturers —have been completely shut out,'' said Marc Robitaille, president of a company that manufactures plastic bags. "All we want is an open dialogue and working with the scientific data.''

In a brief reply, Brossard spokesman Alain Gauthier said municipal lawmakers intend to forge ahead with its plan.

Shopping-bag detractors say they are a source of pollution, end up in landfills and take a long time to decompose.

The plastic-bag industry disputes that, calling them "multi-purpose'' and cites statistics suggesting 93 per cent of bags are either reused or recycled.

The use of shopping bags has fallen dramatically in Quebec thanks to public awareness campaigns and a five-cent charge brought in by many retailers.

Quebecers now use roughly a billion bags a year, less than half from nearly a decade ago.

It's not just in Quebec where the bag debate is in full flow — plastic and retail industry representatives are dealing with possible bans in Victoria and Vancouver.

Toronto tried and failed in 2012, while at least five smaller Canadian municipalities have instituted bans.

In 2007, Leaf Rapids, Man., became the first Canadian municipality to prohibit single-use plastic shopping bags. They are also forbidden in the Quebec towns of Huntingdon and Deux-Montagnes, Thompson, Man., and Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality in Alberta, which includes Fort McMurray.

Brossard residents going about their shopping expeditions on Thursday didn't expect anything to change. Most of those who were encountered had reusable bags under their arms as they entered a local grocery store.

"I'm OK with it (the ban),'' said Benoit Masse, juggling a mix of plastic and reusable bags after buying a few too many items. "I'm for it as long as they offer bigger reusable bags to haul your groceries.''

The Quebec branch of the Retail Council of Canada is against the bylaw and is urging the city to reconsider.

``It has to be harmonized, we don't want to have a patchwork of regulations in (some) cities and the rest of the province,'' said Luc Tremblay, the council's director of government relations.

Fadi Nasra, owner of Boutique Denise, a Brossard clothing store, recently bought 3,000 plastic bags for use in his shop. He wasn't aware of the impending ban, but expects some backlash.

"It'll cause some problems for sure, not all customers will accept not getting a bag,'' Nasra said. "But if they come up with a (cost-effective) replacement, it doesn't bother me to replace them, for the sake of the environment.''

Brossard elected to go faster than other area municipalities.

The Montreal Municipal Council, which came down in favour of a ban last December, announced a working group Thursday to tackle the finer points of prohibting bags in 82 Montreal-area communities _ including Montreal itself, which had public consultations last year. The city's environment commission recommended the same target date the other communities are looking at — Earth Day 2018.

Tremblay says Brossard's bag ban will just result in people going out and buying other kinds of plastic bags for use around the house.

"We think it's a false problem, a false debate,'' Tremblay says.

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