Toronto's 5 cent plastic bag tax is "symbolic environmentalism"

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Are a new generation of urban chic environmentalists afraid to tackle the tough issues?

What ever happened to the environmental movement in Canada? Once upon a time they used to take on tough issues and fought the big oil companies, big polluters, whale hunters and such. I vividly recall images of them chaining themselves to hundred year old trees in the rain soaked Clayoquot Sound to help save this precious forest. They used to board rickety vessels and head out to sea in an attempt to stop the whale hunt. So just where have all these true environmentalists gone?

Today, we have the nouveaux urban chic environmentalists who are more concerned with symbolism, than tackling the big issues that can have real long-term effects on the environment. We've all seen what I dub the Symbolic Environmentalist Movement (SEM) at work in our major cities.

In Vancouver, SEM has all but abandoned the notion of taking on the NIMBYs in low density single family neighbourhoods. Surely they must realize that the single biggest thing they can do to help the environment and protect green space in urban areas is to support increased densities. Despite knowing this, SEM has been almost mute on the subject. Could the fact that supporting higher densities would be seen as an attack on the very base of financial support that helps keep SEM alive?

It doesn't matter which major city you look at in Canada, but SEM is now in the drivers seat. They have councils convinced they should spend their limited resources battling bottled water or planting vegetable gardens on boulevards. The latest venture taking hold is the imposition of a new tax on plastic bags.

In Toronto, they are about to impose a 5 cent tax on plastic bags. SEM hopes that by taxing the bags, they will be able to reduce the overall number that make there way to our landfill. You can bet this SEM project will get a lot of media attention, but whether it will have a major environmental impact is doubtful.

But that doesn't seem to matter to SEM. They argue these "symbolic" gestures will help us all better understand the impact we are having on the environment.

The following is an interesting excerpt from the official Toronto website explaining the 5 cent plastic bag tax:

Retailers are entitled to keep the money received from the plastic bag charge, the money is not remitted to the City of Toronto. While the City does not stipulate what retailers should do with this money, it does support reinvesting the funds in local environmental or community-based initiatives.

Again, if the City of Toronto were truly interested in tackling environmental issues, why have they decided not to use those funds to support a new curbside composting program? Why are they giving the revenue to retailers to help plump up their bottom line? Such is the nuttiness of the SEM.

In Metro Vancouver it is estimated that we will lose hundreds of acres of green space and farmland over the next decade due to urban sprawl. As for water bottles, they comprise less than one-fifth of one percent of the municipal waste stream. Such is the nuttiness of the SEM.

My colleague Mike Klassen wrote an excellent piece about how complicated the recycling system is in the Metro Vancouver area. Used paint goes to one depot, old computers to another. It's a real hodgepodge system that discourages citizens from disposing of their waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

Wouldn't SEM's efforts be better spent lobbying government to fix this basic problem, rather than chasing higher profile and media friendly issues like banning water bottles or plastic bags? The problem is that fixing the recycling system may have a bigger environmental impact, but it simply won't garner the same kind of headlines that help generate large donations which are essential if SEM is to remain financially sustainable.

If the "real" environmental movement were serious about working with cities to curb pollution and greenhouse gases, they would be using all of their resources educating the public about the benefits of denser cities. They would regularly be making presentations to local councils on why increased density in urban cores is a key strategy to relieving the pressure on scarce farmland and green space. But they are not.

You'll never hear me argue that water bottles are good for the environment. That's why I don't purchase them. Are plastic bags my preferred option? No, my family has chosen cloth bags instead.

What I'm trying to get across is that SEM and it's various campaigns to tax this or ban that could actually have a long-term negative impact on the environment. That's because unlike their forefathers in the environmental movement, they appear less willing to get their hands dirty on an issue that may cause major controversy, but reap massive environmental rewards.

What do you think?


I just do not understand the Torontonians STUPIDITY.!!!5 cents tax on plastic shopping bag,and a same store selling a same size plastic bag 10 cents for "kitchen waste",and large plastic bag for garbage.!!!!!!!are they really want to save the enviroment??? or just a MONEY HUNGRY looking a new way to get extra money??!!

This plastic bag "legislation" or "ACT" is just another "green plan" marketing plan, and again, it’s simply targeting consumers and dollars. Does anyone truly believe that they (consumer) were getting these plastic bags from the stores (retailers) for free before? Yea! They love you (retailers + plastic bag manufacturers)...the consumer. And, you don't seriously believe "they" were giving away the bags, before the "ACT" right? No! You were paying for it, before, and, you'll simply pay for it again...this time, more than before too...if you don't have a re-usable, get one, and out-law plastic bags all together. Some people are rich, and don't care about the 5 cents for a plastic bag, or the environment for that matter!

This is obviously too complicated for politicians to follow, so I address my comments to the rest of us. I'm sure that WE will make sense of it:
1) Get a reusable cloth (or recycled plastic) shopping bag and take it with you when you intend to shop.
2) Not on a shopping trip, but buy something needing a bag anyway? A used plastic bag, previously folded tightly and stashed in the corner of a pocket or purse will be one less bag that you are adding to the waste stream. Have one ready for use in several of your most frequently worn items of clothing.
3) You will still probably manage to collect some plastic bags, we can't totally avoid them. So, reuse where possible, and faithfully recycle the rest. I always employ a used plastic carrier bag for my garbage, but as a single occupant who recycles and composts, I can restrict this to one bag every two weeks.

This is how I handle the 5 cents per bag in Toronto now:

When I go buy something and they ask me if I want a bag. I ask them how much it will cost me. They say 5 cents. I say thanks I will take 100 please.

Then on the way home I will drop a bag every few feet polluting the enviroment.

Which I feel is just as insane as charging me 5 cents a back.

"what to do" is right!

This 5¢ bag fee is a scam.

It's also a double dip, since the store gets the 5¢ fee plus the indirect fee they charge within the cost of your bill.

How to protest the 5¢ bag fee rip off... Just after your large order is all entered but not paid for yet, ask if they charge for bags, it the answer is "YES", just leave your goods with the clerk and walk out.... If we all did that, it would not be long until this fee would be removed.

Last time I was at Walmart I asked if they charged for bags and the clerk said "No" not here...

This is symbolic enviromentalism and will do absolutly nothing to save our environment.

Be aware, this is just a scam. Remember that this 5 cent fee is KEPT by the store to do with as they please. Hmmm, bottom line is they make more $$$ off you. This fee DOES NOT go to saving the environment at all. To get around this call the manager and explain to them you fully understand they must charge for the bag/s as required by this foolish law but after your purchase you would like your bag charge/s remitted back to you immediatly. This would ensure the store will be fully compliant with the law. "if smart" the store would agree to this. If not as mentioned earlier...just walk away!

For every $10.00's of purchase left on the counter the store will have to sell bags 200 more bags in the future to equal the lost revenue!!!

100.00 = 2000 bags
1000.00 = 20,000 bags

Any store that does not understand these simple economics should not retain you as a customer and should fail.

As long as the Charge is being used for an Environmental cause, I agree to the charge. Why charge me an amount which ends up in the bottom line of the Company. City of Toronto Should collect Each penny they collected through this plastic bag fee and invest in an Green Initiative ( you want money for the Subway /Street cars here is the money if you can collect from all the small and big retailers) etc.

Every bag that I'm charged a TAX goes in the garbage. Every bag that is free is recycled. Don't punish people for wanting to have a bag to take their goods home. And no, we all don't "plan" shopping trips. Ever hear of spur-of-the-moment or is that being taken away from us too?

My first experience with the new 5 cent tax on bags yesterday at Shopper's Drug Mart.
Then I looked at my receipt, HST, recycle fee, bag fee was a real eye opener.

should read Shoppers Drug Mart in Vancouver is charging the 5 cent bag tax.

is the city of toronto taking the money or is the compies taking the .05 bag fee.Please tell me I want to know.

I think 5 cents for a bag is very stupid!! some clerks say for :charity!?In Victoria,B.C. there is no law or act for 5 cents bag tax. Sometimes,one does the spur of the moment shopping and does not always have a bag(bags) on hand. One grocery chain stores offer paper bags for free(no questions asked.)another would take 3 cents off for encouragement for bringing your own bag or bags.I'll pick the stores where there is no charge!!It feels like the consumers have been penalized for forgetting their bag(bags).
I would support it if they have some
environmental programs in place.

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