This problem didn’t exactly sneak up on us. It’s not going to go away without some tough decisions – and it’s coming closer.
Halifax Region has now broached the topic of banning non-reuseable shopping bags from retail outlets, yet another municipality in Canada addressing the piling up of the problem. It’s been a hot topic ever since news circulated about China’s ban on the importation of the supposedly recyclable material – North America’s heretofore easy way out and excuse to be so extravagant with them.
Ship them away and it’s not our problem.
With municipalities across Canada stockpiling them, hoping for another solution, it’s getting more desperate. The interim step from Halifax was to get the province’s permission to send deteriorating plastic to landfill.
Halifax, in pondering a bylaw banning use of bags in stores, has indicated province-wide legislation would be preferable. But short of that, municipalities would have to act in their own interests on this, a piece-by-piece effort across the province.
That’s not only an inefficient approach, but as usual would mean a confusing patchwork of rules in Nova Scotia.
It could prove complicated.
In Pictou County, for example, we have six municipalities, all of which have at least a few stores. Going municipality by municipality would be onerous, if they didn’t synchronize, with stores a stone’s throw apart either able or not able to offer bags.
But, as noted earlier this year, it’s a serious problem faced by the municipalities to avoid using landfill capacity unnecessarily. That costs us all dearly.
The province should act on this for a uniform stance and approach, and perhaps with pressure and co-operation from the municipalities that could happen.
Stores could take a bolder approach too. Some have started charging for single-use bags to encourage customers to bring reuseable bags, some tried and backed off, likely due to feedback. But a lot more people are realizing the immensity of this problem and are more likely to accept that there’s a cost – in more ways than one – to throwaway bags.
And there’s no point criticizing or second-guessing China on this. Reportedly, they tightened restrictions on importation of these materials partly because of problems with contamination – whether due to improper sorting of items, soiled product or other reasons.
That suggests that as users of products theoretically recyclable, as opposed to simply trashed, people need to be a lot more careful about how they dispose of them.
Also, a welcome addition in this regard would be domestic, home-grown innovation and solutions to what can be done with various products that could be recycled. Shipping them halfway around the world won’t strike many as a good solution.
But where we need to start to deal with this overload, and thus avoid needless inundation of our landfills, is educating and encouraging people to cut back on use as much as they can manage. And if it takes legislation and a ban, as more and more areas are determining, best get at it.