Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tax plastic bags

Ontario's (strategically pre-election) announcement that it wants to cut plastic bag use by 50% over 5 years is lame indeed. It seems unclear how they intend to do this. And why just 50%? And why over 5 years?
Why not follow Ireland's 2002 PlasTax example. By charging a 22¢ (Canadian equivalent) tax on disposable plastic shopping bags, they reduced demand by over 90% almost overnight, and saved millions of litres of oil and reaped the environmental benefits in the process. Many other countries, including some third world countries, are seriously considering following suit.
In Canada, we use about 10 billion plastic shopping bags a year (an estimated half-a-trillion worldwide, or about a million each minute). The vast majority of these end up in our landfills where they gradually break down over a period of up to 1,000 years into tiny particles which contaminate the soil and water. A minority end up round the necks of sea mammals and birds, or in the stomachs of land mammals, or flapping in the breeze on fences and roadsides.
Only 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled, and the economics of recycling are not appealing (and many which are collected for recycling apparently end up dumped in India or China where they are incinerated under laxer environmental laws).
Paper bags are not much of an improvment - it takes 4 times as much energy to produce paper bags as plastic bags, it adds to deforestation and chemical pollution from paper mills, and only 10-15% of paper bags are recycled anyway.
The new generation of biodegradable bags are an improvement in some ways, but they require as much energy for production and transportation as traditional plastic bags, they can lead to contamination of plastics recycling streams, and may make people blasé and lead them to litter even more (even though they still take upto 18 months to break down).
(Most of this information is taken from, incidentally).
Reusable cloth shopping bags are by far the best solution. Now, if only I could remember to take them with me when I go shopping...

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