The McGill Daily reports that with the environment in disarray, the Quebec government is exploring the merits of a provincial tax that will undoubtedly reduce our waste, yet hit consumers where it hurts most: their wallets.

Targeting the extravagant use of plastic bags and hoping to motivate the public to use reusable bags, the Quebec government is considering the implementation of a 20-cent tax per shopping bag – a “plastax” – when consumers use a plastic bag instead of a reusable one.

Curbing the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags in Quebec has been kept in the limelight by Jacques Lalonde, the founder of the environmental advocacy group EcoContribution, who recommended the tax to Line Beauchamp, the recently-appointed Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.

According to Lalonde, the idea is similar to a 15-cent tax imposed in Ireland in 2002, which resulted in a 90 per cent decrease in plastic-bag use.

“I hope to emulate what happened in Ireland, where overnight the number of plastic bags used dropped…. It had an immediate impact, ” Lalonde said.

Beauchamp has agreed to pursue the subject in the fall, a move Lalonde attributes the commitment to EcoContribution’s petitions, with a combined 115,000 signatures, that renewed media attention on the issue.

Lalonde said that each year Quebeckers use approximately 1.5-billion plastic bags, which take 400 years to decompose. He estimated that this tax could bring an extra $30-million to the Environment Ministry, and expects that the extra money could be used for “environmental schemes” across Quebec.

Lalonde noted that a plastax is not the only option to curb the use of plastic bags. In addition to a complete ban on plastic bags, the government could also require storeowners to sell only biodegradable bags made with corn or potato starch, he said.

“As opposed to plastic bags, biodegradable bags are eaten up by the bacteria and soil in three months. That’s 12 weeks instead of 400 years, ” Lalonde said.

Yet biodegradable bags may not be the panacea Lalonde thinks they are. Many environmentalists think that some of these bags are equally harmful to the environment, and hope that biodegradable bags are merely a step in the direction of reusable bags, which have started to become popular.

Many retailers – especially large grocery store chains – are selling reusable bags for as little as $1. The reduction of plastic bag use is becoming a global effort. Bangladesh, San Francisco and a few countries in Africa have banned plastic bags, while other countries have implemented measures such as requiring bags to have a minimum thickness so they can be reused.

“The idea isn’t to replace, but to reduce. Using reusable bags is the ideal, ” Lalonde said.

While Lalonde is pleased to see the government’s support for the plastax, he argued that the political mentality in Quebec is not conducive to overnight change, especially when compared to other jurisdictions.

“It’s hard to change things and get them to happen unilaterally and overnight, ” Lalonde said

Ano da Publicação:
WARMER BULLETIN ENEWS #38-2007-September 21, 2007
Kit Strange/Warmer Bulletin
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