Title: [GreenYes] [GAIA] News/Canada: Town planning to go bag-free, Plastic bags blamed for environmental catastrophes
*Town planning to go bag-free*
*Plastic bags blamed for environmental catastrophes*
/You see them everywhere you go. In trees, blowing along the streets,
and making a mess in landfills. For some people, plastic bags are an
absolute nightmare. The worst invention to ever reach North American
For others, they couldn't get along without them.
The Town of Springdale wants to become the first town in Newfoundland,
and the second in Canada, to declare itself a no-zone for single-use
While it seems easy to just pick a side, it might make better sense to
weigh all of the arguments before rushing to a decision.
In part 1, we'll explore the environmental issues swirling around the
use and faulty disposal of single-use plastic bags. Part 2 examines the
plastics industry and its response to the threat posed by bag-free
legislation. Part 3 takes a look at the Town of Springdale's arguments
for a ban, and the likeliest route to its implementation.
Perhaps the most visible argument to rid the world of plastic bags comes
from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In May 2007, they aired
a documentary by Rebecca Hosking that painted a portrait of a marine
world turned on its head as a result of plastics waste.
To make /Message in the Waves/, Hosking filmed marine life off of
Hawaii. Afterwards she told stories about watching a turtle choke to
death on a plastic bag and of albatrosses feeding bits of plastic to
their chicks, leading to slow and painful deaths.
Her documentary portrayed how the area's currents created a pool of
trash, and the consequences to marine life captured tangled and choking
on that waste.
Message in the Waves claimed 80 per cent of trash found in the ocean
originated on land, and close to 90 per cent of that is plastic. A 2006
United Nations report estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic are floating in
the water for every square mile of ocean. A report by Greenpeace,
/Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans/, said at least 267 marine species
are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine
debris. An estimated 1 million seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic
nets or other debris every year while a whale washed up in France with
nearly a kilogram of plastic bags in her stomach that she had mistaken
Reports estimate more than 113 billion of the bags are used each year.
They've become an important part of retailer branding, but are used just
long enough to move goods from purchase to their final destination.
After the bags have been discarded, they remain in the environment for
thousands of years. And when they break down, they only break down into
smaller pieces of plastic.
"It takes awhile for the plastic bags to break down," says Candy Weir,
Green Bay Waste Management Authority coordinator. "It's something that's
going to hurt our environment and the number of bags - if you were here
in the spring to see the number of bags around the site, it is
"If it was just a few it probably wouldn't be so bad, but the number of
bags that are around our site on a weekly basis is unbelievable."
She said the household trash is brought to the site in trucks, but as
the trash is compacted, the bags break open and the smaller bags get
out. Once it's dumped into the landfill, it's torn open by animals and
then it doesn't take much for the wind to pick them up.
She adds the simplest solution is to reduce, re-use and recycle.
"If you really don't need a bag, say no to it and if you have to take
plastic, find other ways to use it," said Ms. Weir. "I keep my plastic
bags, I use them as kitchen catchers. That's definitely a help instead
of throwing the plastic bag into your kitchen catcher bag."
For people who never throw out the bags, you could re-use them by
returning them to the retailer or take that giant bag of saved plastic
bags to a recycler like Scotia Recycling in Corner Brook. Ms. Weir said
the GBWMA is encouraging people to purchase the reusable bags being sold
to consumers conscious of the plastic bag waste.
For retailers, they can recover the bag cost directly and because the
bags don't get thrown away as readily, it means their branding programs
have greater longevity.
And for those bags making their way into the oceans, some reports say
almost half of them have blown from landfills.
"Each year (we have) to do a major cleanup in the spring, try to haul
all of the bags out of the trees and from around the site," said Ms.
Weir. "Throughout the summer and fall it's a constant battle to try and
keep a handle on plastic bags blowing around."
While reducing, re-using, and recycling limit the amount of errant
plastic waste, Newfoundland's new oil prosperity could also be having a
It's estimated it takes 43 million barrels of oil to make the plastic
bags North Americans use each year. Because oil is used to make the
bags, its rising price has made them more expensive for retailers. Dow
Chemical, America's largest plastics producer, reportedly increased its
prices by about 20 per cent in May. For others, their costs have doubled.
Adding to the retailer cost is the action some governments have already
taken to reduce the numbers of bags. In China, they've banned the use of
the thinnest plastic bags with a fine up to US $1460 for infractions. In
Ireland, that government has taxed the bags since 2002 and claimed a
reduction of 90 per cent.
For Hosking, her best solution was to return to her home in Modbury,
England and rid the town of its plastic bags. In Canada, Springdale's
Bond Ryan helped make tiny Leaf Rapids, Manitoba the first town in North
America to ban their use.
He's hoping to do the same thing here.
"We want Springdale to be the second in Canada, certainly the first in
Newfoundland," said Mr. Ryan. "I live in Springdale so I thought, let's
try Springdale first."
But before Springdale becomes free of plastic bags, the town needs to be
prepared for countermeasures launched by the plastics industry. We'll
investigate that response next week
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