A reduction of 50,000 plastic bags in one year from just one teeny tiny town? That’s exactly what happened in the small northern community of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, when they became the first municipality in North America to make outlaws of those pesky single-use plastic bags.
Now imagine what would happen if every town in Canada banned plastic bags. Think of the savings–money, garbage, the environment–the possibilities are endless!
Plastic Was Pricey
For the 600 residents of Leaf Rapids, it all started with the rising costs of town cleanup, especially those associated with the piles of plastic bags that littered the streets and the local landfill–and they’re not alone. Each year an estimated 500 million to one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide.
Realizing how much they could reduce their budget by eliminating the plastic pariahs, the municipality decided to try a working model used by countries such as Australia and Ireland, and implemented a levy on each bag used by local retailers.
They supplemented the levy with an education program, visiting the schools and telling the kids about plastic bags: how they don’t biodegrade and how they break down into smaller toxic bits that contaminate our Earth and pollute our soil, lakes, and even oceans. But their strategy took off when they handed out reusable bags for the kids to take home.
“Once we gave the bags away,” says Mayor Ed Charrier, “it started to change people’s attitudes. Now they were using them and it started catching on.”
Plastic is Proscribed
With the levy firmly in place, Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB), an enviro-bag program created by Instore Products, approached the town and proposed taking the initiative to the next level. In order to become the first official municipality in North America to go plastic bag-free, they began working on a bylaw that would officially ban single-use plastic bags from the community.
BYOB donated 5,000 reusable bags to the town to kick off the green initiative. On April 2, 2007, municipal bylaw 462 set in motion the bag ban, carrying a fine of up to $1,000 for noncompliance.
“It was obviously a community that cared about the environment,” says Instore’s sales and marketing director Matt Wittek of partnering up with Leaf Rapids. “They felt very strongly that by making this announcement, they would be able to send a message to the rest of Canada that something can be done. Even a small community can make quite a difference.”
Surpassing their goal of eliminating 50,000 bags in the first year, Mayor Charrier says the bylaw has yet to be enforced. Town cleanup costs have been reduced by over 50 percent, allowing them to redirect the money to other projects such as upgrading theirrecycling program.
Community Sharesplastic “No”- How
Fielding calls almost weekly from interested communities, Mayor Charrier recommends the phased approach/strategy as a model that can work for all Canadians. By starting with community education and a plastic bag levy, residents and business owners can ease into stronger plastic bag bylaws.
“Leaf Rapids is not a plastic-free zone and never will be,” he says. “But at least we’re being plastic responsible, and that’s the message that needs to get out to every municipality and city.”
Taking small steps today will turn into lesser footprints tomorrow. “It has to start with one person or one community, and if one starts, others will follow. We’re the proof,” says Mayor Charrier.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s do it as one big Canadian community!
How Can You Make a Difference?
- Don’t just think about it–do it! Use reusable shopping bags and plastic boxes when you shop. Most major retailers offer reusable shopping holders; you can keep these handy in your backseat or trunk for easy access.
- Approach your local retailers who do not offer reusable bags and ask them to launch a program. Visit bringyourbag.com for information on the risks of plastic bags. There you can print off a consumer form to give to your retailer, expressing your interest in a reusable bag program.
- Encourage friends and family to go “reusable.” Education is power, so have discussions with your children and teach them to be green. Give reusable products as gifts to people you care about and encourage them to “pay it forward.”
- Talk to your municipality and government leaders about Leaf Rapid’s story. Send them this story and encourage your community to step up to the challenge and become the next community in Canada to commit to making a difference.