The big bag ban

Reduce, reuse and recycle your bags.

Photo/Sunday Star Times
Photo/Sunday Star Times

With environmentally conscious efforts made worldwide, the most publicized is the plastic bag ban. Despite only occupying about 1 per cent of Torontos landfills, plastic bags are made from petroleum products and take numerous years to break down. Nevertheless, Toronto is currently having waste disposal problems.

Almost all retailers and other corporations promote their eco logic by offering consumers reusable shopping bags, something that has become rather omnipresent of late. This allows them to appear environmentally responsible while also advertising their logos on the bags.

Another incentive to using the reusable bags is the law that Toronto has recently passed which cites a charge of five cents per plastic bag in the hopes of discouraging consumer usage and to help eliminate the unnecessary waste of plastic bags. Because it is not always convenient to have a reusable bag handy during a quick stop at the store — and purchasing a new one costs between $0.99 and $5.00 — one might opt to spend the five cents.

How effective is this plan? In Ontario, approximately 2.5 billion plastic bags are used each year. According to a recent study by the NPD Group, sales of reusable shopping bags have increased by 72 per cent between May 2007 and May 2008. Seems like a step in the right direction to reducing waste.

Will we ever really eliminate plastic bans? If plastic bags were not easily accessible, people would need to purchase more heavy duty (or thicker plastic) garbage bags for lining waste bins or picking up after their dogs. Costly biodegradable bags are available for this purpose too. While plastic bags seem to be environmentally damaging, they serve several reusable purposes before they are discarded.

Most reusable bags contain recycled content, mainly plastic water bottles, which help to reduce more waste. But this would also mean the other percentage of the bag is compiled of new or raw material, sometimes taking up to 28 times more energy to produce these bags.

Some plastic bags claim to be recyclable, especially where recycling facilities for this type of material exist. Bags with extra frills such as zippers, grommets and Velcro, cannot be recycled at all, of course. And some even claim to be biodegradable, which begs the questions: How can a material, which contains plastic, biodegrade? Perhaps they meant to claim degradable — over hundreds of years. The material and construction of these bags are produced offshore in developing nations like China. Lets cross our fingers they offer fair working conditions and wages in these plants.

Dont get me wrong; I am not against the new trend. I think it is a novel idea. Their reusability has decreased the consumption of plastic bags drastically. Some of the better quality ones can hold up to forty pounds, last for a few years, and are quite fashionable. But lets not overlook the more important factors.

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