May 14, 2007

Industry, Ontario, NGO reach accord to reduce plastic bag use

A voluntary agreement between the Ontario government, industry associations and the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) aims to reduce by 50% the number of single-use oil-based plastic shopping bags distributed in Ontario over the next five years. Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten announced the agreement with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors (CCGD), the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG), the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO), the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA).

"Ontarians use almost 80 plastic bags per second-that's close to seven million bags every day," said Broten. "Having the government, industry and environmental organizations working co-operatively on shared goals at the same table is an important step forward," she continued.

Broten acknowledged that "Many businesses have already taken on the challenge of developing environmental initiatives in this area," but cautioned that "More needs to be done, and if continued progress is not shown, I will deal with this issue through regulation."

The partners will be seeking a made-in-Ontario stewardship approach to resolve environmental concerns related to plastic shopping bags. In addition to the 50% reduction, the agreement includes commitments to:

*expand the use of reusable bags, such as canvas and reusable plastic, and develop options for large items made available to customers as an alternative to single-use disposable plastic bags;

*increase the amount of recycled content in plastic bags, where possible;

*offer appropriate and meaningful incentives to encourage consumers to reduce plastic bag demand and to expand the use of reusable bags; and

*introduce options to encourage consumers to recycle plastic bags, including, where suitable, in-store or Blue Box recycling services.

The agreement includes education and promotion initiatives, as well as terms for reporting and monitoring progress. The partners, in tandem with the Ministry of Environment (MOE), have pledged to launch an annual promotion and education program to encourage consumers to reduce consumption of plastic bags, and to re-use and recycle bags already in circulation. An annual report will be prepared, documenting plastic bag reduction, take-back, recycling and recycled content. It will be released publicly, with a copy made available to Waste Diversion Ontario.

In support of the agreement, the MOE will fund a number of research projects designed to provide a more in-depth understanding of the environmental issues associated with plastic bags and packaging. This, in turn, will assist the government's development of a more comprehensive plan for packaging for the future.

The Association of Municipal Recycling Co-ordinators will receive $35,000 to study the potential for managing plastic film in the municipal recycling stream. This research will explore the logistics and cost implications for muncipal recycling of plastic film collection and processing, and will help the government and the coalition determine the viability of including plastic bags in municipal Blue Box programs.

The Clean Air Foundation will receive $19,000 to study potential alternatives for plastic bags and examine implementation issues for retailers, as well as how best to influence and respond to consumer behaviour. Based on this research, the foundation will work with selected retailers to develop and propose a number of pilot projects.

Finally, in support of Sault Ste Marie's "Say Yes to Re-use and Recycling" day, the government will contribute $25,000 toward a pilot shopper loyalty program involving the province, the city and the RCO. The incentive-based program will encourage consumers to purchase and use reusable shopping bags.

"This is more than an issue of just plastic bags. It is another critical step forward in changing how we produce, use, reuse and recycle products and packaging. While the goal is to reduce plastic bag waste ultimately we want to use initiatives like this to change our collective behavior to reduce waste in Ontario," said RCO executive director Jo-Anne St Godard.

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