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Pam Frampton: N.L.’s plastic bag plague

A shopper leaves a grocery store carrying his groceries in plastic bags.
Why opt for polluting plastic when reusable bags are cheap and durable? — Stock photo

“Of all the waste we generate, plastic bags are perhaps the greatest symbol of our throwaway society. They are used, then forgotten, and they leave a terrible legacy.” — Zac Goldsmith, British politician and journalist

It’s April, and tender crocuses are emerging from the earth, adding splashes of purple, pink, yellow and white in an otherwise drab landscape.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

 

They’re hopeful things, crocuses — a welcome harbinger of spring.

Unfortunately, they’re not the only thing emerging as the dirty dregs of snowbanks disappear.

Trash is making its presence known, as well. A walk through Pleasantville on Monday was marred by the abundance of garbage littering the side of the road — coffee cups and cardboard cup trays, fast-food bags and napkins, collections of cigarette butts dumped en masse from car ashtrays.

But the most predominant garbage of all was plastic. Everywhere you look, single-use bags are snagged in the bare branches of trees like the tattered remnants of Halloween decorations someone forgot to take down; fluttering ugly bunting.

Even in our own backyard there was one bag caught in a rose bush and another flapping from the high branches of a maple tree. More are pinned against the fence in the park down the street.

Follow the Sugarloaf path in the east end and you’ll come upon the “Plastic Forest” — a stretch of trail near Robin Hood Bay that looks like the scene of a plastic bag massacre — a phenomenon well-documented in online posts by nature bloggers.

Aside from the damage plastic can do when it’s ingested by fish, birds and other creatures, it spoils our surroundings.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, bigger grocery chains offer reusable bags, but you can still opt for plastic every time you shop, at no cost to you, but at potentially great cost to the planet.

When Sobeys and Dominion introduced a small fee on plastic bags a decade ago, customers weren’t buying it — pardon the pun — and it was scrapped as hastily as the bags themselves are.

The plastic parade continues.

It’s strange, considering the hordes of shoppers who have no problem piling their purchases into cardboard boxes or reusable bags at Costco, or just leave them loose in the cart.

Why do people still insist on plastic at the supermarket, particularly when you can buy a reusable bag for a buck and have it replaced for free if it wears out?

But surely, whether a formal ban is put in place by individual municipal councils or the province as a whole, we don’t have to wait to make our own choices as consumers.

In Halifax, the Atlantic Superstore on Quinpool Road is plastic-bag free — the first of its kind for Loblaws in Atlantic Canada. Customers bring their own reusable bags or use the boxes provided.

So far, I haven’t heard any reports of Haligonian shoppers suffering from plastic bag withdrawal or of scuffles breaking out among people trying to sneak plastic bags into the store.

Most municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador favour a plastic bag ban, but that requires the province implementing one, and the government is still studying the problem.

But surely, whether a formal ban is put in place by individual municipal councils or the province as a whole, we don’t have to wait to make our own choices as consumers.

In Britain, The Guardian reports there has been an 85 per cent reduction in plastic bag use since a five-pence levy was introduced.

Perhaps if supermarket shoppers had to pass by photographs of our plastic-clad hills every time they headed to the checkout, they might give the issue more thought.

Grocery stores in this province should educate customers about how plastic bags are marring the landscape and harming wildlife, and will do so for many years to come.

Loblaw’s director of corporate affairs, Mark Boudreau, says outside of Atlantic Canada, the grocery chain charges 10 cents per plastic bag and the proceeds go the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental programs.

In Atlantic Canada, where we pride ourselves on our connection to the ocean and our healthy respect for the natural world, you’d think we’d be leading the charge, not lagging behind.

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. She is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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