Victoria’s Progressive Plastic Bag Ban Heads for Court

Plastic Bag Ban
Photo by Mack Male on Flickr via CC BY-SA 2.0

A Canadian city’s plans to ban plastic bags this summer could be reversed after a court challenge was launched.

Backed by an impassioned speech from resident Carolyn Whittaker, the city of Victoria agreed in 2016 to set up a bylaw banning stores from selling or offering plastic bags to customers.

Now the not-for-profit Canadian Plastic Bag Association has stepped in and taken the issue to the British Columbia Supreme Court, asserting the council overstepped its constitutional rights.

The law, which was due to be enacted from July, envisages the use of paper bags or reusable bags at a cost to the customer. Plastic bags can still be offered for bulk items, meat and dry cleaning.

Craig Foster, a spokesperson for the organisation which advocates on behalf of Canadian plastic bag manufacturers, commented the action was not about an “argument over the environment.”

He added: “It’s simply a discussion of whether or not the city has the legal authority to declare that bylaw.”

The writ states Victoria has no right to ban businesses from providing customers with plastic bags.

Mr Foster said the city also ignored reports that paper bags present their own hazards to the environment and thin reusable bags have a lower environmental impact than thick ones.

The legal action comes on the heels of similar actions elsewhere, including the association’s challenge against Toronto in 2012 on a plastic bag ban. The council backed down before it went to court.

While 15 percent of all landfill waste in Victoria is made up of plastic bags, Carolyn Whittaker believes the court action is putting the democratic process on trial.

She commented:

“I’m concerned about the issues of endless streams of plastic garbage building up in our community. My understanding of our role is to reduce first. Then to recycle and reuse.”

A report from Victoria’s director of engineering and public works, evoking the ban, said the plastic bag was part of the community’s “throw-away consumerism”.