Mountain News: Slow doesn't cut it. Jasper bans freebie plastic bags 

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JASPER, Alta.—The two million visitors expected this summer in Jasper, the town within Jasper National Park, will be advised they need to have reusable bags when purchasing groceries and other items. Enforcement of the ban on plastic bags will not begin until next January.

Jasper joins a growing number of jurisdictions in North America and around the world trying to curb the proliferation of plastic that is now sullying water, soil, and all else.

Elected officials took action after hearing a proposal for a roll-out spread across 22 months. Too slow, they decided. Instead, they made the distribution of the thin plastic bags by merchants illegal effective this summer but with teeth to be applied in January.

More may be coming. The Jasper Fitzhugh said the plan approved by the councillors contemplates targeting other single-use plastic items, including straws and utensils, take-out food containers, polystyrene foam cups and containers, drink cups, and "flushables." Flushables are products such as wet wipes, which are partly made of polyester.

A fee attached to distribution of plastic bags instead of a ban was considered, but stakeholders consulted by the municipality thought that it would be ineffective. Locals would gravitate toward reusing bags, but visitors would merely pay the fee. In that case, there would be little reduction in proliferation of bags.

In assessing how to move forward, Banff reviewed bans in Vancouver, Montreal, and Fort MacMurray, the latter more technically called Wood Buffalo. It's the centre for oil/tar sands extraction in North America, and it banned distribution of plastic bags in 2012.

Elsewhere in the world, the European Union last fall voted to ban single-use plastic across the board by 2021. Included will be straws, plates, and cups.

But the most intriguing story comes from Africa. In Kenya, plastic bags were ubiquitous. One common practice was to defecate into plastic bags then throw it all up on to roofs.

The Guardian in November reported that the ban has resulted in clearer water, a food chain less contaminated and, too, fewer of the "flying toilets."

A year after Kenya adopted the ban on plastic bags, including a prison sentence for those who violate it, several other African nations are considering following suit.

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