Plastic bags have been in the local news recently, since Nanaimo city council agreed with a concerned group that single-use bags are a serious ecological danger. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

COLUMN: Plastic bags not worth the convenience

Nanaimo city council agreed with a concerned group that single-use bags are an ecological danger

BY MARJORIE STEWART

Plastic bags have been in the local news recently, since Nanaimo city council agreed with a concerned group that single-use bags are a serious ecological danger. Gradual phase-in starting with a levy was proposed and council now awaits a staff report on whether it has the authority to take this sort of action.

Plastics are commonly found in and on Vancouver Island’s rivers, lakes and beaches, frequently harming marine wildlife and entering our food webs.

It’s complicated. There are conflicting arguments. The convenience of these single-use bags is very seductive and they inhabit not only our food-buying culture but play a big part in our lives as wastebasket liners and garbage wrapping.

People are trying to get their heads around how they can buy from bulk bins or avoid meat juice leakage and fishy smells. We can set that worry aside for now because it’s the bigger ones at the cash registers which are currently in question.

People who prefer convenience to saving seabirds are quick to point out that using paper may be worse than using plastic. Or they talk ominously about jobs in peril and higher costs. Is our convenience more important than planetary destruction? I think not.

Knowing that the first bags to go will be the ones at the cash registers, we can all join the increasing numbers of shoppers who bring their own sturdy, long-lived bags. Easy for those of us old enough to remember the big, tough bags our parents kept on the backs of kitchen doors to carry the shopping in.

It’s time to think about alternatives to the instant throwaway plastic bag. I have a three-tiered set of wire baskets, in which I dry herbs, hanging by my kitchen sink. There are clothes pegs clipped to the lowest for hanging the small plastic bags I’ve washed. Meat scraps and bones can be wrapped in newspaper and kept in the freezer for the compost bin on garbage day. Years ago someone gave me a lettuce bag of light cotton that kept wet lettuce perfectly in the fridge.

There was life before most of the wasteful ‘conveniences’ we take for granted. And there are business opportunities for the entrepreneurs who will come up with things like permanent egg containers and crates.

The argument that jobs are in peril is illogical because doing the right thing trumps jobs and most jobs are not immune from obsolescence anyway, especially if robots can do them.

Most plastics are made from non-renewable resources extracted and processed using energy-intensive techniques that destroy fragile ecosystems. The Earth Policy Institute says, “using this fossil fuel endowment to make something so short-lived, which can blow away at the slightest breeze and pollutes indefinitely, is illogical – particularly when there is a ready alternative: the reusable bag.”

That’s a good argument to remember as we watch to see if Nanaimo city council might cave in to industry and voter pressure.

It’s complicated. And politicians use complexity to avoid responsibility.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.

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