It’s as perennial in springtime as skunk cabbage: the idea of implementing a “plastax” to discourage the use of plastic bags has popped up again, this time with the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ environment committee, only to be shot down again by the same committee.
Instead, they’ve suggested that the UBCM encourage the plastics industry to increase the “recyclability” of plastic bags and work with local governments on “enhancing plastic bag reuse, reduction and recycling.” That’s like asking cigarette manufacturers to get smokers to smoke less, and fobbing the failed attempt off onto government. As for municipalities doing “the right thing” by collecting plastic bags for recycling, there are only 20 in B.C. doing so.
Last spring it was the GVRD that shot down the idea of a plastax. At this rate, the provincial then federal governments will next leap on the plastic bandwagon by refusing to discourage the things.
Of course, the plastic bag industry, which runs the site myplasticbags.ca, will continue to advocate for plastic. As for the argument that plastic bags are good because we re-use them, it’s ridiculous. If they weren’t there, we’d do what? Dump our garbage right from the little can into the bigger one and rinse it when needed instead of sealing our garbage in an airtight bag so it can’t decompose? Wrap our wet swimsuits in towels? Use a trowel or a biodegradable bag for dog doo like we should?
No, we use them because they’re there, by the hundreds. And we’re lazy sods riddled with guilt over our excesses, so we use them for something, anything. Future generations will label us as bad bag junkies who couldn’t shake the habit, until someone or something made us.
Leaf Rapids, Manitoba (population: 539) is the first community in North America to ban single-use plastic bags; Rossland, B.C. is considering a voluntary ban; San Francisco is the first city in the U.S. to dump traditional plastic bags. The new bylaw is anticipated to save 100 million plastic bags a year, or 1.5 million litres of oil and 4.2 million kg of carbon dioxide. Then there’s Ireland that started it all with its 15-cent tax on each plastic bag that’s raised millions of euros and cut bag use by 90 per cent.
Closer to home, we can find a few bright lights. Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op went “bio” with its bags two years ago. Chris Higgins, MEC’s building specialist, was charged with researching “solutions” for plastic bags and came up with the Norwegian-made BioBag (he’s a wealth of information and welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org).