Toronto Bans Single-Use Plastic Bags

Ban Is Most Sweeping Action Against Plastic Bags Taken In Any Canadian City

Toronto Bans the BagIn an unexpected decision, legislators in Toronto have passed a measure that will soon prohibit city retailers from providing "compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar" single-use plastic bags to customers at check out. The ban, set to go into effect on January 1, 2013, is by far the most sweeping action against plastic bags taken in any Canadian city. "These bags are junk," said City Councilor David Shiner, who supported the ban. "They end up in the same place, blowing around the streets or in landfill."

The surprise vote came after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford asked city council to end an unpopular five-cent tax on plastic bags that was already on the books. City councilors struck down the tax, but then agreed in a last-minute motion to ban single-use plastic bags entirely. Ford believes the measure will face legal opposition and has spoken harshly about the council's actions. "I don't think it is going to hold up in court," he said. "You can't tell people they can't give out plastic bags. To me it's ludicrous. This just hurts the taxpayer. It hurts the economy. It hurts everybody."

It appears unlikely, according to Ford, that Toronto's city council would re-open discussion about the ban, an action that would require the support of 30 legislators, or about two-thirds of the legislative body. It's quite possible, Ford claims, though, that the city of Toronto could be sued by interest groups – like the Canadian Plastics Industry Association – because of the lack of consultation before the sudden measure, which passed on Thursday in a 27-17 vote.

Introduced by city council in 2009, Toronto's bag tax was intended to cut the amount of plastic deposited into landfills. City officials say plastic bag usage has dropped 53% since then, as consumers have opted for paper bags or reusable totes.