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Letter: We can live without single-use plastic bags

Published on August 12, 2017

Many shoppers and businesses are trying to come to terms with the environmental impact of plastic shopping bags.

©File photo

In a July 29 letter to the editor, Vaughn Hammond of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business suggested that the proposed single-use plastic bag ban being lobbied for by municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador is a “feel good idea.” 

I agree with his sentiment to an extent; it should make us feel good to take responsibility for the tremendous amount of single-use plastic bags that we introduce into our environment. However, this initiative is much more than a spur of the moment, knee-jerk reaction to a perceived problem.

People come to St. John’s in droves to shop at Costco, and I have never heard a single complaint regarding how they don’t hand out single-use plastic bags.

We, as consumers and residents in Newfoundland and Labrador, have created this problem. For this reason it is important to point out that the proponents of this ban are municipal governments, who are also consumers and residents of our province. A plastic bag ban is not something imposed on us by people who don’t have a stake in our communities; we have a vested interest in this, as do your neighbours and friends.

Hammond naively states “The simple solution is to adopt appropriate techniques to cover these materials, so they stay in the landfills where they belong.” The fact is there are no simple solutions. It will require a significant investment of time and public money to find appropriate techniques to cover up the problem — which is not really dealing with it. The proposed ban will cut off the source of litter. Remember, it takes over 500 years for a single-use plastic bag to break down in a landfill and then it doesn’t decompose; it breaks down into microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.

The letter writer stated that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians lag behind when it comes to recycling. I would agree with this, but I would also say that municipalities have been taking a more proactive approach to recycling over the past number of years. As more and more communities come on board, those numbers should increase with additional awareness campaigns and education of our residents.

The fact that the island portion of our province is isolated makes the success of a single-use plastic bag ban even more likely. I don’t believe that single-use retail plastic bags are produced in the province so there would be no adverse effect on local suppliers and jobs. In fact, as alternative reusable options come available, it may create opportunities for local business and small startups to provide reusable options to the public. One of the largest and most successful retailers in the province does not use any single-use plastic bags for consumers to carry home their products. People come to St. John’s in droves to shop at Costco, and I have never heard a single complaint regarding how they don’t hand out single-use plastic bags.

Hammond states that a ban could come with unintended consequences but fails to give a single example of what those consequences are. Of course, there will be a period of adjustment required for retailers and consumers who rely on these bags. I am confident that as resilient Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we will find away to adapt like we always have.

I have travelled all over this province with my family and am always amazed by the attractions we have to offer. I have seen artifacts unearthed that tell stories about our past and map the history of our great province. I sometimes wonder what people will be digging up in 500 or 1,000 years that will tell the story of our time living here. Instead of arrowheads, fossils and other exciting objects, they will find our garbage — in particular, these single-use plastic bags buried because we couldn’t be “inconvenienced” by using an alternative reusable bag. 

 

Craig Scott, councillor, consumer and resident
Town of Torbay