06/15/2012 12:43 EDT | Updated 08/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Plastic bags, composting, habitat protection all part of Manitoba green plan

WINNIPEG - Manitobans could soon face new restrictions on what they put in the trash and have a harder time finding plastic bags.

The NDP government released an environmental plan Friday that outlines in broad strokes measures that are being considered for the next eight years.

The 53-page document says the government will go beyond its previously announced goal of cutting plastic bag usage by 50 per cent by 2015, and continue to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags in the retail sector.

Premier Greg Selinger said that does not mean an outright ban — at least not immediately.

"It's a question of getting engagement by everybody in the plan," he said.

"You could drop a unilateral banning of plastic bags today, but would that get public support? Or would that get a negative public reaction? I think it would be a mixed reaction."

The province is also planning to divert more material from landfills, although the details have yet to be worked out. Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said part of the effort will involve construction materials and items that many Manitobans put in their backyard compost.

"We'll also consider how we can expand, with the municipalities, more composting at the curbside."

The green plan also promises new penalties for anyone who violates environmental laws and a policy to offset habitat loss from industrial or commercial development — something Selinger said could be as simple as requiring trees to be planted.

There are also plans for 15 new provincial parks and protected areas aimed at preserving the habitat of caribou, polar bears and other animals.

The one thing the green plan does not contain is a firm target for greenhouse gas emissions. The government failed to meet its previous target — a six per cent drop from 1990 levels by 2012. The number was based on the Kyoto Protocol and enshrined in provincial law.

The government's focus is to collect data instead of promising any firm reductions.

"Before any other targets are concluded, it's absolutely critical that we have a mandatory reporting of emissions," Mackintosh said.

"You can't cut what you can't count."

The government plans to force industries to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions. Thresholds will be set, although the details have yet to be worked out.