On Toronto's plastic bag fee (6)
Archived Articles 05 Dec 2008  EWR
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To the Editor:

The best and most permanent changes come from shifts in mindset. We began our reusable bag company in New York City in 1989 and, until recently, the conversation about eliminating single use bags (paper or plastic) was held inside of the natural and organics products industry. The City of Toronto’s decision to enact a fee on the distribution of plastic bags shows just how far this movement has come.

We saw the shift begin with “An Inconvenient Truth” and the conversation about global warming. Suddenly there was a sense of urgency in the mass media and in members of our communities to do something, to make some difference.

Single use plastic bags are an easy thing to target. By their nature, they’re wasteful. They’re manufactured to be thrown away, made from a petroleum-based product, and require huge amounts of energy to fabricate and transport. The fact that they don’t biodegrade and eventually become plastic dust seals their fate, in the minds of legislators and citizens who are seeking to make positive environmental changes.

There is no denying the negative impacts of plastic waste on our natural environment. Flotillas in our oceans the size of small islands, comprised of plastic bags and other plastic waste, are compelling. Seeing plastic bags stuck in trees, clogging our storm drains and literally choking our wildlife has moved many to action, both legislative and voluntary.

There is a debate as to whether plastic is worse than paper bags. After all, trees are cut to produce paper bags, it is a water- and energy-intensive process, and the carbon footprint may actually be higher because of the weight and associated shipping requirements. The jury’s still out on which is worse, paper or plastic and there are ample resources on the Web to research these issues. Our recommendation is “neither.”

When the stores stop ordering and distributing single use plastic bags (or charge for them) consumers will find alternatives. In Austin, TX, a yearlong campaign to reduce plastic bag use has resulted in consumers recycling 20% more bags at stores than in the previous year, as well as stores reporting a 40% drop in plastic bag distribution to customers. The ripple effects of this program are significant; waste is reduced and citizens are taking an active role in bringing about positive change.

An all out plastic bag ban, like the one in China, may not be feasible in many parts of the Canada or the United States. New York’s $.06 per bag fee is under consideration and drawing mixed reviews. What we do know is that when Ireland enacted their $.33 tax on bags a few years ago, consumption dropped by 95% in one year. Granted, this is a much higher fee per bag, but it’s clear that the pain of paying outweighed the perceived inconvenience of “bring your own” and it soon became the new reality; a shift occurred.

Folks who need the bags will either pay or find alternative solutions. The bottom line is that the passive distribution of massive amounts of plastic and paper bags will slow as people begin to bring their own bags to shop.

Time and again, we’ve heard that once people stop accepting plastic bags they become aware of other excessive plastic packaging of their foods. They shift consumption patterns, insisting on less packaging and purchasing whole foods more frequently. So not only will fewer plastic bags enter the waste stream, we, as a community, will be contributing to the health of our city and our world. In effect, we’ll be cleaning the planet, one bag at a time.

Sharon Rowe, Founder & CEO
Eco-Bags Products, Inc., New York, U.S.A.

If you need to contact me, please see contact info for Jennifer Cosgrove below. Thank You.

Jennifer Cosgrove
Rob Bailey Communications
310 Route 17 North
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Office: (201) 760-0200 ext.108
Cell: (845) 544-3963
Fax: (201) 760-8798

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