Science & Technology

Swap out your plastic bags: Montreal Bag Ban calls consumers to action

On Jan. 1, 2018, Montreal became the first major Canadian city to implement a ban on plastic bags through its enforcement of By-law 16-051, a by-law prohibiting the distribution of single-use plastic bags deemed detrimental to the environment by the city.

But what exactly does the plastic bag ban mean? When taking a closer look, some interesting details become apparent; firstly, the kind of bags that are being banned.

According to the City of Montreal, the bannable bags are single-use plastic shopping bags that are less than 50-microns thick. Other banned bags include those that are oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable, and biodegradable, regardless of their thickness.

At first glance, it might seem counter-productive to ban oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable, and biodegradable bags, items that are branded as environmentally-friendly. But while their marketing might indicate otherwise, biodegradable plastic bags never completely disappear. Instead of completely decomposing, they use an oxidizing agent that causes them to degrade into infinitely smaller and smaller plastic pieces. Some of these pieces can become so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye, and have become a widespread pollutant.

While many Montrealers have celebrated this ban as an environmental victory, why not ban all plastic bags? Bags that are more than 50-microns thick are still legal and have been in circulation since the ban took effect. This number was inspired by a European mandate and is also a standard being used in California. The reasoning for the limit is that bags thicker than 50-microns are less likely to blow away in the wind, and are generally made of recycled plastics and are recyclable themselves.

Ultimately, the ban is a step forward, but will not eliminate the presence of plastic in retail stores. It does not forbid the produce bags used to transport food items to the cash, or that hold foods that need to be separated for hygiene, such as meats, fruit, vegetables, or fish.   

For business owners, a grace period of about six months will allow businesses to hold off on switching their bags until June 5, 2018World Environment day.

To encourage shoppers to reuse bags, the city of Montreal has created posters with the slogan, “Je fais ma part, j’ai mon sac,” translated from French to “I do my part, I have my bag.”

When asked about the effects of the ban on Montreal, François Jarry, a first year master’s student in Sport and Exercise Psychology at McGill, expressed his support for the push to choose greener shopping options.  

“I was aware of the phasing out of plastic bags, but I didn’t notice a difference in the bags since I always bring my own reusable bags and backpack,” Jarry told The McGill Tribune. “I think [the ban] will have a positive impact on the environment since it will force people to bring their own reusable bags.”

Montreal has taken one step forward in removing plastic from today’s society. On the other hand, since a complete ban on plastic bags has not been enacted, the change may have less of an effect than some had hoped. However, small actions do make a big difference, so it is up to each of us to rid the environment of this pesky foe. Now there are so many different options for reusable bags that it can also be a fashion statement. So do your part, and bring your own bag the next time you shop.  

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