05/14/2012 11:19 EDT | Updated 07/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto mayor a step closer to eliminating bag fee

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is a step closer to quashing the controversial five-cent bag fee that city shoppers have been paying for nearly three years, but he will still need council’s approval to end it.

The mayor has been pushing to end the bag fee, despite city staff's recommendations to direct a portion of proceeds from the fee to tree canopy protection.

Staff had recommended that major retailers be asked to voluntarily donate the revenue that they get from the fee to protect the city's canopy from an infestation of the emerald ash borer bug, which has caused a lot of damage to city trees.The executive committee was to vote on a motion on that proposal on Monday.

But the mayor introduced an amendment to that motion to “declare the Plastic Bag Fee program a success” and rescind its accompanying bylaw by July 1, 2012.

The amended motion carried, along with an amendment from Coun. Cesar Palacio to request that retailers display “how much they are contributing of the plastic bag fee to the tree canopy program.”

However, the mayor's proposal to scrap the bag fee mandate will have to pass a later vote in council in order for it take effect.

On his Sunday radio talk show, the mayor said the levy has "been around too long" and has served its purpose.

Retailers have been required to administer the five-cent bag fee since the summer of 2009, after a successful push for the levy by then-Mayor David Miller. The city doesn't make any money from the fee — the retailers get to keep all the proceeds.

The aim of the fee was to reduce plastic bag consumption, and city staff estimate that usage has dropped to 215 million bags annually from 457 million in 2008.