Local governments in the Comox Valley are enacting bylaws to regulate single-use plastics — which take up space in landfills, and contribute to marine debris. Councils in other towns and cities around North America have implemented similar bylaws; nevertheless, there are those who argue that single-use plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than reusable bags.
Arguments vary, including contentions that plastic shopping bags are made from natural gas, not oil, and require 70 per cent less energy to manufacture than paper bags.
“There’s many different arguments around it, but the main one is, using a reusable bag, a cloth bag, is the best solution,” Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said.
Other claims include concerns that reusable grocery shopping bags can harbour the E. coli bacteria because few people wash their bags. Johns acknowledges the concern, but maintains that cloth bags are washable and easy to use.
“They’ve been doing it in Ireland for decades,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing, it’s not about it being replaced with paper bags, it’s about us getting away from the disposable culture. There’s many studies around the world that show the decline of plastic bags in public spaces.”
He said studies have also proven the success of fees on bags. In Tofino, where 76,000 bags were being distributed each year, that money was used to educate and support community causes.
“On their beaches, they used to get a lot of plastic with the co-op logo — now they only find plastic bags from outside the community. It shows it’s working in Tofino alone.”
Along with preventing large amounts of plastics from entering oceans, Johns notes that single-use plastic bans have brought massive awareness to the issue.
“The plastic bag ban is a starting point, but it’s a reminder too that we can reuse, recycle and replace plastic. Paper bags in our rivers, they don’t have the same impact as plastic. They may be more energy to create, but they are certainly not leaving the lasting impact that plastic has on the environment.”
His motion to combat marine plastics pollution, M-151, has been supported in the House of Commons.
“No one could have dreamed three years ago we would be talking about a single-use plastic ban by 2021,” said Johns, who commends industry, concerned citizens and school children for bringing the issue to the forefront.
The Comox Valley Regional District board, in response to a plea from the CV Nurses for Health and the Environment, has appealed to the B.C. government to implement province-wide regulations to reduce single-use plastic bags. In a letter to Environment Minister George Heyman, board chair Bob Wells said regional districts don’t have authority to regulate businesses, and are therefore unable to meaningfully address the issue.
“Given the current trend, this will create a patchwork of regulations across the province that will impact our ability to collectively reduce this harmful plastic waste,” Wells states.