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Metro Cities: From fines to jail time, a look at the arsenal in the plastic-bag war

As Montreal leaps ahead in the war on plastic bags, and Halifax considers it, Metro looks at bans around the world.

In Canada, plastic bags are banned in Montreal, and soon to be banned in Victoria, B.C.

Torstar News Service

In Canada, plastic bags are banned in Montreal, and soon to be banned in Victoria, B.C.

Toronto tried, and failed, to ban them in 2012. Now, as Montreal leaps ahead in the war on plastic bags and Halifax considers it, Metro takes a look at different approaches to the pesky environmental problem.

Rwanda

When it comes to plastic bags, this African country has a scorched earth policy.

It's against the law to produce, import, sell and even use, plastic bags except in a few industries. And officials treat contraband bags as if they were smuggled drugs, the New York Times reports.

If you're caught trying to smuggle them in you can face steep fines, a humiliating public confession and even jail time, the paper reported in Oct 2017. Stores can be shut down for using them and executives of companies who produce them risk spending up to a year behind bars.

The zero tolerance policy is designed to prevent flooding and crop loss, officials told the Times, as bags can prevent rainwater from penetrating soil.

Italy

A ban on merchants giving out plastic bags at the till went into effect in 2011, with retailers facing fines if they buck the law.

The Italians recently went a step further and banned thinner plastic bags for fruit, vegetables and baked goods at grocery stores, charging customers a few cents for biodegradable/compostable alternatives, the New York Times reported.

Since the new law went into effect Jan 1 there's been widespread outrage, including public protests at stores throughout the country.

The government tried to appease the public by saying they could bring biodegradable compostable bags from home, if they hadn't been used, provoking more outcry and questions about why the country couldn't just adopt reusable mesh bags, like some Northern European countries have done.

Montreal, Que.

Montreal's plastic bag ban came into effect with the new year on January 1. It's the first city in Canada to implement a ban, which officials say is meant to help the environment and cut down on unsightly urban stray bags.

Lightweight plastic bags are banned. There is a six month grace period for stores, but after that fines for up to $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for a corporation for a first offence start, Then Canadian Press reports. But there's an exception for those thin fruit and vegetable bags that are forbidden in Italy.

Victoria, B.C.

Councillors in this west-coast city have voted to enact a bylaw that bans plastic bags and fines business owners up to $100 if they sell or give them out. Instead, store keepers are supposed to ask customers if they need a bag. If customers insist they will be charged 15 cents for a paper bag and $2 for a reusable one.

The bylaw should come into effect this summer, with enforcement starting in 2019, according to The Canadian Press.

Ireland

Instead of jail time or hefty fines for retailers, Ireland slapped a 15 cent plastic bag tax on customers in 2002, kind of like what No Frills already does here. It's designed to keep the bags from clogging their beautiful countryside.

The nation reported a 94 per cent drop in plastic bag use within weeks. People grumbled but quickly switched to reusable cloth bags, the New York Times reported in 2008.

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