There is a solution to the problem presented by all the new proposals that are threatening the Canadian plastic packaging industry. And that is to embrace the manufacture of multi-use bags made of low density plastic, which are already being used at Loblaws stores.
Consumers find these durable bags handy because they can be reused in a variety of ways. The issue of durability is especially important in light of Montreal's decision in 2016 to ban single-use, lightweight plastic bags with a thickness under 50 micron. Several communities surrounding Montreal have introduced similar legislation.
More Canadian cities seem to be following Montreal's agenda. Victoria City Council is scheduled to debate the issue, and Vancouver city councilors are wrestling with complaints from residents about overflowing garbage bins. And the Cowichan Valley Regional District is endorsing a motion to ban single-use shopping bags.
The key phrase here is “single-use.” Multi-use bags could sway public opinion towards the side of the plastic packaging industry.
Not all plastic bags are created equal. They may look the same — except for the colors and logos printed on them. But the differences don't stop there.
Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro bags are all 18 microns thick — that's about the width of two sheets of paper. Wal-Mart bags are a shade thinner at 15 micron. But Sobeys, Metro and Wal-Mart sacks are made of high density polyethylene, which do not allow stretching. Holes often appear in the bottom of the sacks, which results in leakage when used for lining kitchen waste baskets. And forget about taking one of those sacks when walking the dog.
However, Loblaws' bags are created to be multi-use bags. They are made of a low density plastic, which allows the bag to stretch. This not only gives them better carrying performance, it also lets customers use them for a second and even a third time. Plus, because Loblaws bags are more durable and can be reused, fewer of them will end up in landfills.
Some people believe the alternative is the 99 cent polyester non-woven bags made in China. Although most environmentalists initially gave these bags a thumbs up, they later realized that the bags had a terrible carbon footprint. They cannot be recycled, due to being made of multi-layer blends of various materials. In addition, grocers are concerned about the cleanliness of these bags entering their stores, as they are often stored in unsanitary areas of the house or car. When they get wet, they can be breeding ground for spores, and definitely should not come in contact with fresh foods.
Canadian-made plastic bags supply jobs for thousands of Canadians. For this reason, and others mentioned above, consumers need to learn the facts about the durability of multi-use bags before supporting a ban on all plastic bags.
Perhaps the answer is to legislate that bags should be made of a low-density plastic — the bags which are already being reused today. After all, legislating that bags should be thicker than what we use as garbage bags doesn't seem logical — or cost-effective.
It is time for politicians to get educated!
Benjamin Gleisser is a freelance writer in Toronto who lines his wastebaskets with plastic supermarket bags.