Regina bans plastic bags—sort of

Imagine if a city suddenly fined people hundreds of dollars for something they regularly did hundreds of times a year? That’s exactly what the City of Regina and many other […]
Published on February 14, 2022

Imagine if a city suddenly fined people hundreds of dollars for something they regularly did hundreds of times a year? That’s exactly what the City of Regina and many other municipalities have done by banning single use plastic bags. One article is barely room enough to skim how unjustified the reasoning for this move is, nor how bad the execution.

According to the City’s website, Canadians use 200 to 300 plastic bags per year. This means a Regina-sized city of 200,000 people would have at 40 to 60 million bags headed for the landfill. So what? Anything that bag is made of came out of the ground in the first place, and to the ground it shall return.

Nevertheless, the city wants to reduce the garbage headed to the landfill by 65 percent—as if Saskatchewan was like Manhattan—densely populated with no available land to bury anything, and stray plastics washing up on the shores that surrounded it. But guess what? Plastic bags are only one per cent of garbage. This ban does nothing for the environment and everything to inconvenience shoppers.

City council is proud to make life worse for citizens. “We are joining municipalities across the country in our move to ban plastic checkout bags and become a more sustainable city,” Councillor Bob Hawkins said in a press release.

“Regina residents made it clear that this is the right move. Over 10,000 residents took part in public engagement on this initiative, and 77 per cent indicated that the reduction of single-use plastic items is an important issue to them.”

There’s a difference between asking someone if they’d like less plastics used” and if they would like fines of hundreds of dollars on something they did hundreds of times per year. “To fine or not to fine” was not the question. Not only did the city de-emphasize this implication when it surveyed people, it continues to do the same during implementation. Neither the webpage on the plastics policy, nor the 7-page toolkit for businesses, admits there even is a fine.

The fact is that this is nonsense. After all, citizens should be grateful the city didn’t implement this in May 2020 when they passed bag ban bylaw 2020-49.

At least the pandemic delayed implementation of the bylaw until February 1, 2022. When the bylaw was passed in May of 2020, the Retail Council of Canada was advising employees not to handle reusable bags due to their potential to carry disease. Thanks to a different Regina City Council, retailers in the “Queen City” must allow customers to use them.

So, is the pandemic over or isn’t it?

The webpage announcing the City policy has a banner with a COVID-19 update that says, “The City of Regina’s top priority remains the health and safety of our community and employees.” That’s why unvaccinated taxpaying citizens and their children can’t enter city facilities without proof of a negative COVID-19 test. They’re as unwanted as plastic bags.

The City has issued a “Plastic Checkout Bag Ban Business Toolkit” to raise awareness of the bylaw for businesses and customers. The toolkit says exceptions include “bags used for carrying fruits or vegetables, fresh bakery, bulk items and meat/poultry/fish” because, as most of us know, paper bags can fall apart easier than a minority government. There are other sensible exceptions too, but businesses must go to to find out what they are, or to find out that violations mean fines.

If someone accidentally puts a can into a plastic bag instead of an orange, they can make a voluntary payment of $75 for a first offence and $150 for a second offence, while a corporation can pay $375 for a first offence and $750 for a second one, but the numbers are different if the matter goes to court.

A first conviction for an individual is at least $100, at least $200 for the second offense, and $200 to $500 for offenses thereafter. For corporations, the first conviction is at least $500, the second conviction $1000, and later convictions run at $1,000 to $10,000. The first and second offenses have no upper limit, but all the ones thereafter do—just one more way this law makes no sense.

Although reusable bags do gather e-coli and other bacteria if left unwashed, retailers no longer have the chance to refuse them. The City’s “Bring Your Own Bag” policy (#BYOBag) forbids retailers from issuing plastic bags (even if they are biodegradable) and they are forbidden from restricting or denying customers from using reusable containers or reusable bags. A #BYOBrain policy for city councillors still awaits.

Lee Harding is a research associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


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