City mulls using 5-cent bag fee to protect tree canopy

As Toronto works its way through budget challenges, the city’s trees remain vulnerable to threats from harmful and invasive insect species.

But on Feb. 14, the city’s executive committee may have found a way to help.

Until plastic bags are completely banned, putting the money towards a cause is the way to go.

—Michelle Berardinetti

Led by Coun. Michelle Berardinetti, the committee voted 8-2 to ask the city manager to find incentives that might convince businesses to donate the five-cent bag fee — which they’re collecting now under a city bylaw — to help protect the city’s tree canopy.

“The tree canopy was obvious to choose because everyone can relate to it,” she said, adding the idea has received support from business and the public . “It’s not too specific that people aren’t affected by it. Everyone is affected by it.”

In a letter dated Jan. 17, Berardinetti pushed for a change to where the bag fees go as Toronto faces budget challenges.

The executive committee had earlier voted to maintain the five-cent bylaw after Coun. Paul Ainslie called for the program to be scrapped entirely. Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday were the only two to vote in favour of Ainslie’s motion.

After Ainslie’s motion failed, Berardinetti successfully tabled her own. Ford and Holyday voted against the plan.

The bag fee should never have been introduced in the first place, Holyday said. And now Berardinetti’s proposal creates a “double-edged issue”, he added.

“Introducing something like this tells people that buying plastic bags is okay because it helps the environment and the tree canopy,” he said in a phone interview. “But the supposed purpose of the fee is to stop the use of more plastic bags.”

Berardinetti disagreed.

“People have gotten used to the five cents and after a while people continue to purchase them,” she said. “Until plastic bags are completely banned, putting the money towards a cause is the way to go.“

According to Berardinetti’s motion, more than 860,000 ash trees alone have been affected by harmful insect species, mainly by the emerald ash borer, a beetle originally from Asia that was accidently introduced to North America in the 1990’s.