Why are plastic bags banned? Is the Toronto plastic bag ban much ado about nothing? Canada has proposed to ban single-use plastics, such as grocery bags, six-ring packs, straws, stir sticks, cutlery, and plastic dinnerware across the nation by the end of 2021. The goal of the nation is to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030. But where can retailers find a product that is more cost-effective and recyclable? And does Canada really want to destroy multitudes of trees in favor of paper bags instead?
It is a common misconception that paper bags are a greener option than plastic bags. Although paper bags are made from a renewable resource and are biodegradable, if 10 billion paper bags are consumed per year, this would require 14 million trees to be felled. Once trees are cut down, the logs are transported to the mill where they can take up to three years until they dry out. Once the bark is ready, it is stripped off and the wood is formed into one-inch cubes which are exposed to high pressure and heat. Sulfurous acid and limestone are added to the mixture until it becomes pulp. The pulp is washed with water, bleached, then pressed into paper. The paper is then cut, printed, packaged, and shipped.
What results from the heavy use of toxic chemicals in the paper bag manufacturing process is 70 percent more air pollution and 50 times more water pollution than plastic bag production, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. The paper bag manufacturing process is responsible for more toxicity to humans and the environment than high-density polyethylene bags (HDPE) bags. Paper bags are recyclable, but only 66 percent of paper and paperboard are recycled with the recycling process requiring more chemicals to remove ink and revert the paper back into pulp, which adds more to paper’s environmental impact.
The significant environmental impact of paper bags is due to their weight. They are six to 10 times heavier than plastic bags and they require more costs to transport and distribute, as well as fueling costs. It is estimated that it would take seven trucks to transport the same amount of paper bags that a single truck can transport in plastic bags. The bulk of paper paper bags takes up space in company inventories and landfills.
The reasoning behind the ban originates from environmentalists who have complained that plastic pollution is threatening the natural environment, filling up oceans and landfills, and marine life who commonly mistake plastic for food, resulting in the deaths of thousands of marine animals and millions of sea birds. This argument, however, has been debunked. A study on plastic bags by the Australian government in 2002 cited these findings. However, in their report, they misquoted a 1987 Canadian study where the deaths of animals were attributed to fishing lines and nets rather than plastic bags. A 2005 Scottish study also stated that paper bags scored more poorly than plastic bags on water consumption, atmospheric acidification, and the eutrophication of bodies of water, which may lead to more algae growth and oxygen depletion.
A Danish study which compared low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene, bleached and unbleached paper and cotton bags found that LDPE bags have the least environmental impact from the other bag alternatives. Unbleached paper bags were discovered to be equal to LDPE bags in global warming potential. However, the environmental impact of bleached paper bags was significantly higher than unbleached paper bags. Bleached paper bags would have to be reused at least 43 times to rival LDPE plastic bags’ environmental impact.
Toronto’s neighbors to the south are wiser. They have instilled a program that not only protects the environment by keeping plastic out of landfills, but also increases public awareness by providing bins in grocery stores for customers to recycle their used plastic bags. These bags are then sold to the manufacturer who has them recycled into resin to make a new batch of plastic bags. What could be simpler?
We are all aware that using plastic for grocery shopping is far more convenient, particularly when we have an unexpected leak from one of the products we purchased. We also know that we can reuse the grocery bags for many uses, such as bin liners or grocery shopping. If we give the customer five cents for bringing every one of the used bags back rather than charging them to use it in the first place, we would be assured that almost all the bags would be recycled.
Rather than focusing on plastic bags banned, why don’t we provide a grant to researchers to find a cost-effective way of disintegrating the plastic before it gets into the landfill? Those of us who are older and remember grocery shopping when our only alternative was the use of paper bags remember clearly wet and soggy bags, easily torn bags, and bags that were difficult to lift. We dread the thought of returning to paper bag usage for groceries.
With plastic bags, we have convenience, cost-effectiveness, and of course, intact trees. In our technologically advanced society, we are sure that there are solutions for us to have it all—convenience and a healthy environment. Danshar Polybag and Toronto Stretch Wrap is committed to finding eco-friendly plastic bag manufacturing solutions.
Please contact us for quotes