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Changes suggested for plastic bag fee

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 21, 2011

HAY RIVER - The Hay River Chamber of Commerce has put forth some ideas for the 25-cent fee on bags that retailers collect for the GNWT.

"Basically, we sent a letter off to the GNWT to get some clarification and provide suggestions on the bag program," said Brian Lefebvre, the chamber's president.

NNSL photo/graphic

Brian Lefebvre: president of Hay River Chamber of Commerce says organization has offered suggestions for GNWT's bag fee program. - NNSL file photo

The fee was introduced in some locations more than a year ago as a 25-cent levy, but customers pay 26 cents with GST.

The chamber requested information on how the collected money is being spent and how much the program costs the GNWT.

Lefebvre said the chamber also suggested the money could be funneled back to the communities in which it is collected for things such as recycling initiatives or social programs.

"The other thing that we requested is to have some of that fee stay with the retailer because there is a cost associated with running this program and collecting the fees and sending them in," he said. "So we had requested five cents out of the 25 cents to be kept by the retailer."

Lefebvre said retailers have to pay the fee up front when buying bags from suppliers and the money goes directly to the government. For example, a box of 2,500 bags costs an additional $625.

Lefebvre said if a retailer requires multiple sizes of bags that can end up costing thousands of dollars.

"Maybe the retailer can't afford to do that, so maybe the retailer is carrying a line of credit," he said, adding a line of credit can be an additional expense, along with the cost of handling the bags.

"We feel that five cents out of 25 cents for the retailer to keep for the handling of the program is a fair amount and something that should be considered anyway," he added.

As of last week, the chamber had not received a response to its letter.

Lefebvre said the Hay River Chamber of Commerce supports the bag fee program.

"We just figure there are more ways that more can benefit from the program, as opposed to just throwing all of the money into a single pot," he said.

Steve Anderson, a chamber director and co-owner of a Super A grocery store, explained retailers recoup the money paid up front for the bags by charging consumers.

"The problem with it is, from time to time, the cashiers neglect to charge the consumer the 25 cents," Anderson said. "When that happens, we lose 25 cents."

That loss can add up, he said. Anderson said the chamber would like to see the money collected in Hay River coming back to the community.

"I think there is some opportunity there to use that money for other things. For example, is there any possibility that we can get a cardboard recycling program, where the cardboard gets shipped down south instead of being taken to the dump?" he said.

At the beginning of February, the initiative - officially known as the Single Use Retail Bag Program - was expanded to include all paper, plastic and biodegradable bags in all NWT stores.

Ella Stinson, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said money collected goes into the Environment Fund.

"That money is used for current and future environmental programs," she said.

Stinson said all NWT communities benefit from the programs, such as beverage container recycling depots.

The revenue generated from phase one of the program totaled $223,125 last year.

Stinson said it is anticipated the revenue generated by phase two will steadily decrease over time as people switch to reusable bags. "Obviously, our goal is to generate zero revenue with this program, because that would mean people are not purchasing these bags."

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