The Record says, "It's estimated that local residents use more than 100 million plastic shopping bags a year. ...Most local bags are believed to end up in the landfill, where pieces of them will last for up to 1,000 years. Plastic bags are accepted in local blue boxes, but recycling success is spotty. Until last fall, local bags were shipped to China for recycling, a practice condemned by Greenpeace."
We could easily reduce plastic bag use by forcing grocery stores to charge a dime for each bag (and then collect part of the funds, which could be put in an environmental fund). Charging for bags is a common practice in discount grocery stores, and is widely done in Europe.
However, first it would be a good idea to do an audit of the issue to determine how big a problem it really is. Many grocery store bags are reused. Also, we need to take a serious look at claims that sending recycling to China is bad. Sometimes we get on bandwagons about issues that are not major; I'm not saying this is one, but we should always proceed responsibly. For example, the LCBO deposit policy is a disaster, forcing people to drive across town to beer stores to return bottles that they could put on the curb.
In addition, plastic bags are just a part of the plastic packaging issue. Excess packaging is everywhere, especially in items that face non-price competition like cosmetics and toys. Federal packaging regulations should be tightened.
And we should do something to reduce the use of single-serving plastic water bottles. A hefty surcharge on water bottles might not even make a difference. More drinking fountains might.