Councillor Jan Stick wants to ban plastic bags.
But when city officials suggested Whitehorse opt for a plastic bag charge rather than an outright ban, they inadvertently widened her crusade to the territorial level and sent it through murkier bureaucratic waters.
The proposal, approved by council last week, suggests it approach the Association of Yukon Communities and the territorial government about implementing a surcharge similar to the $5 surcharge applied to tires.
The tire surcharge is currently applied through the designated materials regulation.
“The (regulation) was developed to address a potential variety of material,” said Jennifer Peterson, environmental protection analyst at the Yukon’s Environment department.
Similar programs recycle used paint and e-waste in other jurisdictions, she added.
The surcharge is used to cover the cost of disposing of used tires once they’re turfed out. The money goes to a recycling fund, which is then distributed to designated depots that dispose of tires.
Amending the tire regulations to include plastic bags would take two to three years, said Patterson. It would be quite unusual for the regulation to pertain only to Whitehorse.
“In effect, if we brought in a regulation it would probably have to apply to every area of the territory,” said Environment spokesperson Dennis Senger.
Council was forced to take this route because of the way the municipal act outlines how the city can collect funds.
Whitehorse can only enact bylaws to put a fee on something if there is a service provided, such as for cemetery plots or garbage pick-up. Otherwise it is considered a tax, and only property taxes are permitted by the act.
“A lot of Canadian municipalities in the country can rely on a large tax base for expenses,” said Matt King, Community Services acting director of community affairs.
“Municipalities in the territory have a small tax base.”
Because of this, the municipalities receive a comprehensive municipal grant from the territorial government. The grant has kept the city from expanding its income base to include other taxes.
“Some municipalities in other places are able to charge hotel taxes but because the Yukon provides the comprehensive municipal grant it hasn’t been contemplated how the municipal act can incorporate other fees,” said King.
Since Whitehorse doesn’t do its own recycling, a plastic bag surcharge could not be considered a user fee for recycling services.
All the recycling in town is done by nongovernmental groups, such as Raven Recycling, a nonprofit and volunteer-based organization.
Raven currently doesn’t receive any core funding from the government, said Danny Lewis, the facility’s education co-ordinator.
“We’re what we call a social enterprise,” said Lewis.
“Usually the municipality does the recycling,” he added.
“If we shut our doors tomorrow, there would be no more recycling. The city would be left high and dry because they have nothing in place to do the recycling.”
Currently, Raven loses money by collecting plastic bags and then compacting them into bales to be sent Outside. It costs $80 to ship one bales of plastic bags to recycling facilities, Raven receives only $40 per bale, said Lewis.
It would be fine if groups like Raven get the money from the plastic bag surcharge, said Stick.