Town adopts first single-use plastics ban in the province

Sam Odrowski

Fort Frances appears to be the first municipality in Ontario that’s set to ban certain single-use plastics.
A resolution was unanimously passed at Monday night’s meeting to adopt a single-use plastics bylaw aimed at reducing the amount of single use products in landfills and promote sustainability throughout the community.
“The bylaw is modelled after provincial legislation from the east coast, and its goal is to reduce the waste output of single-use products which are harmful to the environment and can take hundreds of years to decompose,” said Coun. Douglas Judson, who spearheaded the legislation.
The bylaw will prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags at checkouts and single use foam food containers for prepared foods-such as Styrofoam cups or takeout containers.
It also requires that plastic drinking straws be available at restaurants and bars by request only.
The legislation does not apply to plastic bags used to package loose bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, or candy and prescription drugs, small hardware items, or frozen foods.
It also excludes wraps for flowers or potted plants and baked goods that are not pre-packaged.
It will be up to businesses to provide an alternative to single-use plastic bags for customers.
The bylaw will be phased in gradually, as it takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021 but fines created under the bylaw won’t be applicable until Jan. 1, 2022.
“The purpose of that timeline is to support consumers as they transition to new practices, but also to allow businesses to exhaust any existing inventories,” Coun. Judson explained.
“Certainly, it is my hope that our local businesses will be compliant by 2021, like the community leaders they always are in Fort Frances.”
“I recognize that some of the alternative products may come at higher prices than existing stock,” he added. “Our expectation is that by curbing consumer behaviour, we will reduce demand for single-use bags across the board, so that fewer are required.”
Coun. Judson said he’s pleased with the level of support he’s received for the initiative and is excited to see it move forward.
“I have received emails and phone calls, and have been stopped on the street by many people who are thrilled we are doing this-some, asking if we could do more,” he remarked.
Although, owner of Ink Spotz Apparel, Scott Kreinke-Turvey told council prior to the vote that he doesn’t see why they’re rushing to pass the single-use plastics bylaw,
He told council that similar single-use plastic bans in Sioux Lookout and Geraldton were later withdrawn because of the overage they had.
“The facts are that less than one percent of the plastic in our landfill is plastic bags,” Kreinke-Turvey said. “Most of it is water bottles.”
He also explained that plastic bags are not made from oil, they are produced from ethane which is a by-product of natural gas.
“We’re actually helping the environment by using this product instead of flaring it,” he charged.
As well, Kreinke-Turvey argues that the bylaw will have a negative impact on his businesses, where he hasn’t had to substantially raise prices in the six years its operated.
Coun. Mike Behan said his personal preference would be to see the issue dealt with on a voluntary basis through increased public awareness and education, rather than legislation.
“I’m fully aware of the challenges small businesses face as it is without having even more rules and regulations to deal with,” he noted.
“But while attitudes definitely are changing among both consumers and business alike, it’s equally clear that the time for more definitive action is upon us.”
Coun. Behan said it’s been nine years since the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association’s (NOMA) passed a resolution calling on the province to ban single-use plastics and there’s been no indication that a law will be introduced soon.
“That means it falls upon individual municipalities to take a lead on this issue,” he remarked. “I’m not naive in thinking that Fort Frances passing this bylaw will magically result in the Great Lakes and our oceans suddenly becoming free of plastic pollution but it will impact our local landfill site.”
“More importantly, our decision will hopefully lead to other municipalities in Ontario to adopt similar bylaws or better yet, get the provincial or federal governments to do so,” Coun. Behan added.
Coun. Judson said city councillors from Kenora and Thunder Bay have expressed interest in Fort Frances’ bylaw since its passing and could introduce similar legislation at their own meetings in the future.
Meanwhile Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said he doesn’t want to hurt small businesses’ bottom line and feels the fines that range from $100 to $10,000 per day for businesses who fail to comply with the bylaw are too harsh on a local level.
“What I hope and what my expectation is that when a business can show concrete evidence it is working on transitioning, the town will work with that business before laying any fines, i.e giving out warnings,” he explained.
“I would even go so far as to suggest that beginning in 2022 warnings are handed out and fines will not start being levied until 2023.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said phasing out plastics is inevitable but he doesn’t want to hurt small businesses without giving them ample time to adjust.
In response, Coun. Judson said the bylaw has been well received by the business community and the two year timeline before fines are distributed gives them ample time to adjust.
“Personally I am of the view that we got to pull the trigger on this kind of stuff eventually, you can only kick the can on making these changes for so long,” he remarked.
When looking to the $100 to $10,000 fine threshold, Coun. Judson noted that the purpose of the range in fines is to provide flexibility for enforcement as they can be determined by the municipal bylaw officer.
Meanwhile, Mayor June Caul said that the steps taken by the town to make a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future are essential to humanity’s survival.
“We really owe it to our future generations to not just worry about our bottom line but worry about what’s going to happen for them when they are on this planet,” she stressed