Shopping without Plastic

Posted on February 21, 2009

...Plastic bags that is.  I still very much need my debit & credit cards to go grocery shopping.

As you may or may not know, city council has been looking at the possibility of banning plastic bags at store check outs.  Now we all know why plastic bags are bad: they don't degrade for hundreds and hundreds of years, except their chemicals photo degrade and leech into the eco system and ultimately our food chain; 4 to 5 trillion bags are used each year filling our landfills and our oceans (and in many places they fill the streets); they require oil to be produced only to be thrown away; all that bad stuff.  If you didn't know why plastic bags are bad, now you're up to speed.  I'm here to talk about a possible future without plastic bags.


The future is already here - elsewhere

Many major centres of the world have begun their own plastic bag taxes and bans, and how are they holding up?  Well it turns out San Francisco is still kicking and Adelaide is going strong, and that these bans aren't nearly as scary as they sound, but do they help?  Ireland has instituted a tax on every plastic bag used at the check outs.  The amount of plastic bags purchased at the stores (presumably for lining garbages at home) has increased by 4 times.  That's bad.  However, plastic bag usage at store check outs has decreased 95%.  That's good.  So overall in Ireland there has been a net reduction of plastic bags in the country and the measure has been successful.


Calgary without plastic, a dry run

So, how would day to day life change in Calgary with out plastic bags?  Well, it won't be some post-apocolyptic world with mutants running the streets.  In fact, it's strangely the same place.  Albeit a happier one where I no longer need to hold back my rage at the check out when someone asks to have all their bags 'double bagged' (or the unprecented triple bagging).

GASP! What's this? My first shocking observation in this futuristic world, plastic bags are still available for sale.

Dog owners seem to be the most vocal against a possible plastic bag ban because they reuse them to clean up doggy doo (although a large amount of the plastic bags we get from grocery stores have holes in them, compromising their doo packaging ability and thus reusability).  But, as you can see above, dog owners will still be able to clean up their doo, they just won't get a free ride to do so anymore.  Taking naturally biodegradable fecal matter, wrapping it in something that ensures it won't biodegrade for hundreds of years and throwing it away probably shouldn't be a free practice any way.  Now that we will have to buy our garbage bags it may encourage using biodegradable bags so that we aren't packaging dog doo for future generations.

There's only one difference in the shopping experience, you bring your own reusable bags or boxes.  I spent $3.96 on reusable shopping bags two years ago, and I estimate that's saved me from using more than 400 plastic bags over that time.  Now, it's true I've purchased garbage bags, but I've probably used only 60 over that period.  Imagine if every Calgarian reduced their use that much.

Ugh, the worst case scenario, I've forgotten to bring my reusable bags. And make no mistake, this is absolutely worst case scenario with a plastic bag ban. Hardly much of a concern - the world isn't ending - I simply load up my trunk with my groceries and drive home just like always. The only difference is that I have to bring my bags down to my car when I get home to bring them in. That and maybe I spend a little more care loading my groceries in the trunk to prevent them from rolling around much.


How you can help

For starters, get your self some reusable bags.  We've talked the talk, it's time to walk the walk.  Actually, a good rule of thumb in life is to only purchase reusable items if possible.  If it's disposable, chances are it's an extremely unsustainable product.

Now that you've got your reusable bags, it's time to enact your own ban on the plastic kind.  So what if the city hasn't stopped you from getting plastic bags at the check out yet?  I know lots of people that are only against the ban because it's a ban and they despise government intervention, and there's definitely some merit to that argument.  So show everyone at the checkout you don't need city hall to make you an environmentally responsible individual.  That said, it wouldn't hurt to let your alderman know you support action on plastic bags.