Get rid of those plastic bags

Posted 11.19.03

Plastic grocery bags are a major source of pollution, and our thoughtless over-use of them is one of the strongest signs of our environmental irresponsibility. Recyc-Quebec estimates that Quebec uses 1.1 billion plastic grocery bags per year, although others say the real number is twice that. These indestructible bags end up in our landfills, rivers, lakes, and street corners. Anyone familiar with an ocean shoreline will recall all the bags amid the flotsam.

The problem is so profound that Bangladesh and Taiwan have prohibited their use altogether. Ireland has introduced a 15 cent tax on each bag, reducing their use by 95%.

Paper bags are hardly an alternative. Although they do decompose, paper bags mean we are cutting down forests merely to cart our groceries home.

The use of re-usable cloth bags became very popular in the last decade, but some stores note that cloth shopping bags are declining in popularity. This is hard to understand, since re-usable bags are planet-friendly--and secure since they don't tear or stretch to breaking.

A few recycling facilities have figured out how to recycle plastic grocery bags, but most have not. The real news is that research to develop a decomposable grocery bag has produced some success, and there are now biodegradable grocery bags made from corn starch and synthetic polymers. Called Bio-Bags, they are compostable, and can also be reused or recycled. The Sherbrooke Record reports they are being used by one shop in that city, a first for Quebec. No longer in the trail stage, they have been used in Ontario and British Columbia for three years, and over ten years in Europe, as well as in the USA, Japan, India, Australia, and Taiwan.

At present the Sherbrooke shop is buying the bags for 28 cents each and selling them to the customers for 20 cents. (Plastic bags cost about three cents, excluding the cost of printing the store name on the bags.) The shop also sells Bio-Bags in garbage and leaf bag sizes. This is also good news, because plastic bags now contaminate commercial composting operations. Roger Dumouchel, who makes compost off Aylmer's Cook Road says plastic bags are a significant problem. Other commercial operators say the removal of plastic bags from compost-and emptying the contents of plastic bags and then disposing of the used bags-add as much as $25 to the cost of a tonne of finished compost. This is another instance of the insidious effect of plastic bags.

The check-out lines of any supermarket will demonstrate that most of us are totally unaware of the harm we are doing ourselves by our indiscriminant use of plastic bags. Perhaps we might take Ireland's example of charging to use the bags, but the best would be our own rise in consciousness so that we stop using plastic bags and request cotton or biodegradable bags. Our local shops would get the message and make the bags available-Aylmer's SOL and the Tremblay Family's IGA already sell cotton bags.

Being against pollution only yields results if we each do something about it in our daily lives. The store check-out counter is an obvious and effective place for you and I to start. Don't bring plastic bags home. They're not free.

Fred Ryan is publisher of Quebec's Aylmer Bulletin, West Quebec Post, and the Pontiac Journal. He is also a director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

Copyright © 2003 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.03