Fort Frances appears to be the first municipality in Ontario set to ban the distribution of single-use plastics.
But it’s not alone – other parts of Canada are also considering bans. The bylaw has been drafted based on legislation passed in eastern parts of Canada. Similar movements have taken hold in Duluth and Minneapolis this year, with both cities enacting fees for single-use plastic shopping bags.
Jan. 13, The Fort Frances Council approved a resolution regulating single-use plastics, an action which will take effect Jan. 1, 2021. It is expected to be adopted at the next council meeting.
This bylaw, once enacted, should accomplish three things:
1. Prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags at checkouts;
2. Prohibit the distribution of single-use foam food containers for prepared foods (such as Styrofoam cups or takeout containers); and
3. Require that plastic drinking straws be available to consumers on request only.
Fort Frances Councilor Douglas Judson was a vocal supporter of the legislation and introduced the bylaw to the council in November.
“The goal of (this bylaw) is to reduce the amount of those products that are destined for litter and landfills,” he said. “The reason it is important to do that is those products take hundreds of years to fully decompose and the bags, in particular, are a significant source of litter that end up on roadways and in ditches and in our waterways in our region.”
The ban does not impact the sale of these single-use products, only their free distribution, so consumers will still be able to buy Styrofoam cups, plastic straws and garbage bags for personal use.
“What I set out to do was to find a way for Fort Frances to show leadership on the fight against climate change and some of the environmental destruction that we’re seeing around the globe.
The reason that we’re doing that is that, as a civilization, if we want to make a dent in those problems, we all have to do something,” he said.
Judson said the legislation has received primarily positive support from the community.
“There’s been a few critics, but I credit my council for their ability to recognize that with anything like this that requires change, there is a vocal two percent in the community that does not have the numbers they think they do, and there is a bigger picture and an important need here,” he said.
He compared the reaction to when wearing a seat belt became mandatory in the province.
“When Ontario passed its first law on seat belts and making those mandatory, there was all kinds of outcry at that time too, but the government said, ‘You know what, no, we’re doing this, because this is good for you, this is good for your safety and well being,’ and that’s why we’re doing it,” he said of the plastic distribution ban.
The ban is intended to reduce the amount of waste created by single-use products which are often destined for landfills and to require consumers and businesses to start making more sustainable and environmentally-friendly choices.
“We can preach the three Rs of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ but clearly they haven’t worked, because we’ve been hearing about those for 30 years or more. And still, if you park your car outside of Walmart or one of our grocery stores, you see cart after cart of single-use plastic bags coming out. It’s time to nudge people,” he said.
The bylaw will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, but the fines it imposes take effect one year later. The purpose of the phased approach is to allow businesses to exhaust their inventory and consumers time to adapt their practices.
“We wanted to be fair,” he said. “We can’t implement something like this overnight, because it wouldn’t solve the problem. If the bylaw went into effect tomorrow, and suddenly Walmart took a pallet of plastic bags to the dump, that doesn’t solve our problem.”
This bylaw is the result of six months of consultation with stakeholder groups in the community, including local business organizations, Judson said.
The legislation cites that “it is estimated that: every year, 1 to 5 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded around the world; 10,000 tons of plastic debris enters the Great Lakes each year, globally, a truckload of plastic waste enters the ocean every minute, with the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ having grown to over 600,000 square miles, and a town of 2,500 households could send a million plastic bags to landfills every year.”
Judson hopes the bylaw will encourage citizens to begin swapping to sustainable alternatives, such as canvas bags and reusable packaging.
“We know that there are alternatives available, we know that they are cost-effective, and frankly, we know that much of our local population is already adopting those practices,” he said.