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EDITORIAL: Swimming in the stuff

No doubt a lot of people figure the plastic shopping bags they faithfully recycle go toward making fresh bags – or at least some other useful product. That would be the ideal: no waste, no muss, the unbroken circle of recycled life.

But its a lot more complicated than that.

Life all other materials that go in the blue bag, the viability of reuse depends on market demand.

Pictou County council recently raised a concern about plastic bag recycling, with some talk of changes in global markets, in particular, new environmental laws in China. What could slackened demand eventually mean for the local recycling program – or programs anywhere? Revenue from these sales are a factor in keeping the product out of landfills.

First off, Pictou County Solid Waste advises that people should continue to recycle as theyve been doing. If anything changes, they will update residents.

But the suggestion of a possible shift, with reduced demand, certainly raises questions about the profligate use of this item generally used to carry a few goods out of a store. The use – or overuse – of plastic bags is a concern not just here, but in many jurisdictions, to the point that some places have banned them, or plan to.

Victoria, B.C., is the latest city in Canada to move on a ban, a bylaw that if approved would come into effect in July with enforcement to begin in 2019. Once in place, businesses would be fined $100 for continuing to provide single-use plastic bags. They would be required to ask customers if they need a bag, and charge 15 cents for a paper bag, or $2 for a reusable one.

For some, such a change takes getting used to. But its always good to look at these things from a bigger perspective.

Weve been hearing reports in recent years about all the plastic thats invading our environment. A study last year, according to EcoWatch, estimated that about eight million tonnes of plastic enters the worlds oceans each year. Much of marine litter is plastic-based and is to the point of choking aquatic life and ecosystems.

Efficient recycling offers some means of curtailing that disaster. But an awful lot of plastic waste simply ends up as litter.

Reducing the use of plastic products where possible would certainly help – and a prime example is single-use shopping bags, when there are alternatives.

Some have managed to get into the habit of bringing reusable bags on shopping excursions. Theres also the option to say no bag needed for a couple of easily carried items.

An attempt a few years back by one grocery chain to charge a nickel for bags to help encourage reusable bag use got nowhere, unfortunately. Some businesses – the NSLC is an example – have misguidedly replaced plastics with paper bags. Its still a bag, it still draws on a natural resource, it still has to be disposed of in some way.

Liquor stores in some jurisdictions charge a hefty fee for a bag – in the range of a dollar. It might take that kind of kick-in-the-pants incentive for people to realize they can do without a bag – or remember to bring their own. Habits have to change.

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