Canadian Plastics

Victory for plastic bags

L ast month, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that his government would not be taking steps to ban the use of plastic shopping bags in that province, despite pressure from environmental group...

February 1, 2008   By Mark Stephen, Managing Editor



Last month, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that his government would not be taking steps to ban the use of plastic shopping bags in that province, despite pressure from environmental groups. But while there won’t be an outright ban of plastic shopping bags in Ontario, the Premier continued, plans are underway nevertheless to work with industry on reducing plastic bag use.

It speaks volumes for the amount of negative publicity centering lately on plastic bags, however, to say that Premier McGuinty’s decision will probably come as a relief to those of us making a living in Canada’s plastics industry. After all, we could have found ourselves sharing China’s fate; the Chinese government recently announced a near-total crackdown on plastic bags, banning production of ultrathin bags nationwide and forbidding its supermarkets and shops from handing out free carriers as of June 1, 2008.

With anti-plastic bag sentiment seemingly on the rise and anti-plastic bag legislation increasing accordingly, it’s interesting to note the scientific community proved long ago that plastic bags are actually better for the environment than their paper counterparts. A report written for Germany’s Federal Office of the Environment in 1988, for example, demonstrated clearly that the production of paper bags generates more environmental stress in the air and wastewater than polyethylene (PE) bag production. Based on a comparative analysis of the manufacture of 50,000 paper and PE bags, the report noted that paper production consumes more energy than plastic production, as well as creating higher levels of emissions of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane gas. Also, there is no significant emissions difference between the disposal of waste PE and paper in garbage incinerators.

Plastic bags also have other advantages that are obvious if one takes a moment to think about them. They don’t require the felling of hundreds of thousands of trees for their production; are lighter than paper bags and thus less costly to transport; and, at the end of their cycle, don’t take up as much landfill space as does paper.

Premier McGuinty’s decision not to ban plastic shopping bags is a victory for our industry, due in no small part to advocacy work carried out by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), a standing committee of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA).

Congratulations are due to the organization for this. As CPIA president and CEO Serge Lavoie rightly pointed out to me, among its

other efforts EPIC has laboured diligently with other plastics industry organizations over the past few years to ensure that not one single significant jurisdiction in Canada has taxed or banned plastic bags.

However, if Ontarians had understood all the facts relating to plastic bag production in the first place, such a ban would probably never have been considered by anyone.

That it was considered here — and is being implemented elsewhere — has a lot to do with the fact that, as mentioned in last issue’s editorial space, plastic is currently struggling in its public relations war against the paper industry.

Premier McGuinty did the right thing in backing away from “the brink” — the imposition of a Chinese-style ban.

I’m confident we can follow up by making this the point at which our industry begins to turn the tables on the plastics detractors.


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