FORT MCMURRAY — Alberta’s oilsands municipality is banning single-use paper and plastic shopping bags.
Council for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on Tuesday unanimously approved a bylaw that will apply to most retailers starting Sept. 1.
Shoppers in Fort McMurray will need to bring their own reusable bags to haul groceries or other purchases from major stores.
Liquor stores, pharmacies and restaurants, including fast food franchises, will be exempt.
Coun. John Vyboh says it’s the first step in changing the area’s image around the world.
The region often comes under intense criticism from environmentalists about pollution from the oilsands.
“We are showing not just the rest of the province or the country, but the world who we are,” Vyboh said.
“We’re also sending a signal to the youth. They are the ones who inherit what we have done.”
Mayor Melissa Blake said she was conflicted on what action to take, but eventually supported the ban.
“We are trying to make a change. We are trying to be a sustainable community,” she said.
It was a full house in council chambers as the bylaw was being debated. Some people were forced to stand throughout the meeting and the crowd broke into applause when the policy was passed after nearly three hours of discussion.
Seven people spoke in support of the bylaw, while four came out in opposition. There were also 30 written submissions of support that had been sent to the municipality, along with several letters addressed to specific councillors.
Coun. Mike Allen said he would prefer that the municipality educate people rather than legislate their behaviour, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that the ban had gained momentum and had huge support in the community.
But he remained cautious. “My concerns are related to how we implement it and the reasonableness of what’s being presented.”
Supporters argued the move would reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill while reducing litter and harmful toxins.
Those who opposed the bylaw argued that it would hurt retailers and consumers. They said shoppers would be inconvenienced if they forgot to bring reusable bags and businesses would see less impulse buys from customers without enough bags.
Another argument suggested it would be difficult for retailers to monitor shoplifting if people in a store all carried their own bags.
Colleen Tatum, who owns a small business, presented a petition with 175 signatures of people opposed to the ban.
Sean Graham, a high school student who first proposed the idea, responded by pointing out that he had collected close to 2,300 signatures on a petition in support of it.
“It feels fantastic,” Graham said after the vote. “It feels good to be able to start something and convince an entire city to do a course of action. I think this is a very simple thing we can do to improve our ecological footprint in this community and I’m hoping they look at this … and say, ’What can we do next now?”