Smoky River Waste Commission requests ban on plastic shopping bags

The Smoky River Waste Commission landfill site in the distance across a field.

Tom Henihan
Express Staff

Smoky River Regional Waste Commission (SRRWC) is requesting that the municipalities of Girouxville, Falher, Donnelly and McLennan ban plastic grocery bags.

The proposed ban is to address a persistent and growing problem of plastic bags blowing from the landfill into neighbouring farmer’s fields. The landfill is located northeast of Falher on Range Road 213.

The SRRWC has had some complaints from other farmers, but the majority of the bags blow south and east pushed by the west winds and land on the field of one landowner.

“If we ban the plastic bags, that would be ninety-five percent of what is out there when we go to pick up that litter in the fields,” says Marco Gervais, manager of the Smoky River Regional Waste Management Commission

“We are trying to get that source of litter stopped. The smaller grocery bags that are thrown out, once they get out there the wind just picks up those bags and they are gone.”

On days when the wind is up, there if often not enough time for the operator to cover the bags before they get picked up by the wind.

While plastic bags are harmful to the environment in numerous ways, the proposed ban on plastic grocery bags here is about an immediate and localized issue of bags becoming airborne and littering neighbouring fields.

However, the ban would make a positive contribution to the larger environmental picture also.

Plastic grocery bags reused for garbage are not good for the environment but they don’t necessarily contribute to blowing litter as they are heavy enough to remain inert before being covered up. Empty grocery bags thrown in the garbage pose the real problem.

“What we have done in the past is get some non-profit organizations: 4H has come out and the last ones we used were G.P. Vanier band group,” says Gervais. “The cleanup costs about $2,500 a time and they would come out maybe twice a year.”

SRRWC did that for a couple of years but when the clean up was called for more often, SRRWC decided it would do the pickup.

“But with two people it took us forever so you do need to have a group that will go out, but there is also a very tight timeline,” says Gervais.

The tight timeline can mean having only two days to get a group together and things organized, and that can be a challenge.

“I can’t blame the landowner, because it is in his field and the problem is getting worse,” says Gervais. The question is, how do we solve this.”

The SRRWC’s answer to that question is to tackle the problem where it originates, and with the support of the four municipalities ban the use of plastic bags in the region.

Fort McMurray, Wetaskiwin and Jasper are among municipalities in Alberta that have imposed a ban on plastic shopping bags.

A number of municipalities across the country have taken the same initiative and others are in the process of moving in that direction.

In the communities where the ban is in effect, there appears to be support for the initiative, with most people recognizing the damage plastic shopping bags do to the environment, both physically and esthetically.

In this region, there is an apparent increase in use of plastic shopping bags as they are posing a growing problem at the landfill.

“It is an issue for me, a huge issue,” says Marco Gervais. “It used to be that every spring we had to do it once, and this year the landowner asked us to go in again after the crop was up, that has never happened before.”

The landfill site where it borders on neighbouring land.

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