Toronto needs to revamp it’s plastic bag policy. Right now the city charges $0.05 per plastic bag. The money is charged by the vendors (grocery stores) and presumably goes into the city’s coffers. The city however set the price too low. Five cents is not an inconvenience, it’s not even noticeable. I recently bough a trunk load of groceries worth $140.00 and used 5 bags. Do you really think I noticed the $0.25?
In China, the bag fee had a different impact. In China it reduced plastic bag consumption by 50% despite enforcement being lax because…well, it’s China. But the government is crafty and there is a subtle difference in the way it works. In China, “Store owners could set their own price for the bags—as long as it wasn’t lower than the cost of the bag—and keep the profits themselves.” As you can imagine store owners are all too happy to participate. This reduction resulted in a savings of 40 billion plastic bags. Plastic bags which consume a monstrous amount of energy. Made from oil they never decay and if burned emit toxic gases. The Guardian reported that China has saved a whopping 1.6 million tonnes of oil.
Here in Toronto, I had a checkout girl at Sobey’s inform me that Toronto’s plastic bag fee was “gay”. As you can imagine I was not pleased. But I did have to agree that it was ineffectual, which is what I assume she meant to say. This might have something to do with the vast differences in income. The average income in China in 2006 was $6,567. You can imagine that a nickel is worth a lot more there than here.
What is also funny is the outrage and indignation people felt when Toronto City council first introduced the fee. Yoni Goldstein wrote in the National Post from two years ago,
“Ten days ago, Toronto Mayor David Miller actually came up with a decent idea: In an effort to curb use of environment-destroying plastic bags, he wanted to offer consumers a 10¢ discount to not use plastic bags. That is, each time you go shopping — for groceries, clothing, appliances, whatever — and agree to carry your booty home in your hands, instead of in a plastic bag, you get a couple cents off. That idea would have surely got consumers interested.
Really? I bet consumers would not be interested at all. I have a reusable coffee cup on my desk, I never take it to Starbucks even though they will give me a dime off of my coffee. Soup Nazi, downstairs, will save me a quarter if I reuse the paper bag, again no dice. It is a matter of convenience versus cost. It is easier for me to pay the fee than remember to bring my grocery bag to work.
It is easier to pay for something I would be paying for anyway so offering a discount is not that big of an incentive.. If the city really wants to move people away from plastic bags, let retailers charge what they want, as long as it is over a nickel and let the retailers keep the profit. We have to make some sort of move to save the planet so I say raise the bag fee to a dollar. Make it hurt Toronto!
Other fun upcoming bylaws and rules for the GTA:
As of December 31, 2010Food service companies must develop a reusable and/or refillable take-out food container or protocol.
As of February 28, 2011The sale or distribution of plastic take-out food containers will be banned if they are not compatible with the City’s recycling program.
As of December 31, 2011City divisions are asked to develop a program that bans bottled water in all other City facilities and improves access to tap water. (From Greengta.ca)