Editorial: The end of plastic bags
Times ColonistPublished: Wednesday, November 14, 2007
So life ends for the ubiquitous white plastic grocery bag. Only 30 years ago, it muscled paper bags aside at the checkout counter, a triumph of technology and petrochemicals.
And tomorrow, the plastic bag gets shoved out in its turn, as the Langford Real Canadian Superstore quits keeping the bags on hand for customers. More than any talk of bans or taxes, this signals the beginning of the end for the plastic bag.
After all, this isn't some organic food market in Fairfield that's giving plastic the push in favour of hemp bags. The Superstore is a classic big-box shrine to shopping. If the green winds are blowing strongly enough to sweep plastic bags from its bank of checkout counters, then their future looks bleak everywhere.
Superstore is getting rid of the bags as part of the effort by parent Loblaw Companies to go green. British Columbians use about 1.3 billion bags a year -- 3.5 million a day.
Even with reuse, more than 95 per cent of the bags end up in landfills -- or waving sadly from tree branches and fence lines.
Defenders end up arguing mainly that other environmental issues are more important. They do say the bags don't contribute much volume to waste and that if people don't get them at the store, they'll just end up buying other plastic bags to use around the house.
But waste is waste. The bags have acquired a symbolic importance, showcasing our willingness to use hydrocarbons to create a product with a lifespan of days that remains in the environment -- including the oceans -- for centuries.
Other jurisdictions have taken steps to curb the plastic bag's use. Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags -- about 22 cents -- in 2002. Their use has fallen by 90 per cent since then. Communities from Leaf Rapids, Man., to San Francisco have banned the bags. London has joined other British communities in seeking legislation bringing a ban.
The action by Superstore suggests the change is coming in Canada with or without government action. The company, an astute marketer, has decided the public today is opting for the environment over convenience.
More than that, the ban shows just how much our attitudes have shifted toward environmental concern.
Just 40 years ago, we welcomed plastic bags as yet another example of modern life's ability to deliver up new improved versions of whatever came before.
Now, we're looking back to cloth bags and carry carts, choosing conservation over convenience. It's a welcome change.