Newly sworn-in Toronto Mayor Rob Ford announced at the end of December that he wants to get rid of the five-cent plastic bag fee that has been mandatory for Toronto retailers since 2009. The seemingly insignificant charge on plastic bags at most retail and grocery stores has been credited with the spike in popularity of reusable bags.
If the law is eliminated, there is still nothing to stop stores from continuing to charge the 5-cent fee, as many supermarket giants were doing long before reusable bags became a popular choice for Toronto-area shoppers.
Why eliminate a fee that encourages the use of reusable bags?
While sometimes called the “plastic bag tax”, the 5-cent fee is not a tax at all, and the money goes into the businesses’ pocket, not the government’s. Mayor Ford, along with many members of the public, have a bit of a problem with this. However, another issue the opposing side has is that the government should not be dictating how businesses charge for various items – businesses should be able to set their own prices.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months. If the plastic bag fee is eliminated, retailers may continue to charge five cents. Perhaps the fee can remain intact, but be “re-worked” – the money can instead go to a designated environmental cause. This is “encouraged” already by the city, but not mandatory. Ford hasn’t been clear on whether he would be simply fixing the bylaw to direct the money to environmental charities or removing the plastic bag fee completely.
The fee itself does nothing to help the environment – the money can be spent however businesses wish – but the fee is encouraging consumers to use reusable bags and is lowering the demand for plastic bags by as much as 80% at some Toronto-area supermarket chains, according to a recent CBC article. One thing is for certain – Canada’s beaches, riverbanks, sewer drains and roadsides are not littered with reusable bags.
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