The first "R" in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is, of course, REDUCE.
To reduce the number of plastic bags that are in play, do we:
- ban all plastic bags?
- legislate that stores must charge for plastic bags at the checkout, to encourage shoppers to reduce or eliminate their use?
- educate citizens on the impact of the use of plastic and hope for the best?
Our provincial government's immediate reaction has been the first choice above: to call for a ban on the use of all plastic shopping bags in stores. They are requesting that all municipalities across the province get on board with this decision.
But will banning plastic at the checkouts actually reduce the use of plastic overall? If so, will there be a different but equally harmful cost to the environment?
Currently, we are required to place our garbage and recyclables in specific kinds of plastic bags for collection. Our newspapers must be in separate bags from the rest of our recycling. We usually put a total of five bags at the curb in each two-week collection period: three partial bags of garbage ("partial" due to weight restrictions per bag), most of which is used kitty litter, plus non-recyclable packaging for food and other supplies; one is newspapers; and one is other recyclables. If these bags are banned as well - as they probably should be if we are serious about reducing our plastic consumption - we will need to find alternatives.
Will we switch to using heavy duty plastic bins whose contents will be dumped directly into the collection trucks, the way our compost is collected? That's a lot of plastic bins to be manufactured for our use, which incurs different environmental impacts. Even if they are made from recycled plastics as opposed to new materials (but where will they get the plastics to recycle if we ban shopping bags?), there are other considerations such as water and energy usage during manufacture. On the other hand, they are durable and would not need to be recycled or put in the landfill until many years in the future.
Many folks here already shop with a recyclable bag in hand. Many of them use whatever plastic bags they do end up with as garbage bin liners in their kitchens, bathrooms and wherever else they have bins. We are part of this group. Since at least the 1980s we have been re-using our plastic shopping bags this way, and we also use them for discarding used kitty litter. We try to minimize the number of bags we need to re-use, by dumping the contents of the small bins into the large garbage bags that go to the curb, unless the garbage is quite messy. But we still go through quite a few of these shopping bags in a week due to daily scooping of the cats' litter boxes. If we didn't re-use these bags, we would be buying new bags for the same purpose, because plastic helps to contain the smell that inevitably becomes an issue when pickup is only every second week. And unlike food waste, which we are told to (and do) store in our freezers to reduce the smell, I have absolutely no plans to store used kitty litter in that same freezer until pickup. And I have yet to come up with an alternative plan for it.
Looking beyond our own household's use of plastic, I realize that dog owners must go through quite a few bags as well. Not picking up after your dog, in this town at least, is a fine-able offence.
So we in the Donkey household have already made progress on reducing and reusing, and we are avid recyclers of all materials that are currently accepted. Even before our recycling program began, decades ago, I washed and stored glass and metal cans in our basement for two years because I couldn't bear to put them in the garbage and I felt the winds of recycling change were blowing our way. Sure enough, our municipality was among the first in the province to provide collection points for these items, and my two-year collection was not amassed in vain.
I tell you this only to illustrate that recycling has been on my list of Important Things To Do for many, many years, and that it has been on our region's list of Important Things To Do for nearly that long too.
Therefore, I am pulled in two directions regarding the banning of plastic shopping bags. Is it as good for the environment as it appears to be, considering that alternatives also have an environmental cost? Will giving people the choice to buy them or not at the checkout, combined with education, make enough of an impact? Is there a fourth (or fifth, or tenth) solution that has not yet been proposed? Not many people, and certainly not many governments, think outside the box in terms of solutions.
If you feel inclined, please give me your thoughts on the topic. What is the current procedure for disposal of compost, garbage and recyclables where you live? What would be your solution if you were running the world? Brainstorm with me, if you'd like. Who knows where the next really good idea will come from?
I hope you have a weekend free from too much stress over environmental issues (after you have left your comment here, I mean!) and free from too much thinking about stinky messes (after you have read this post, of course!). Here are some pictures to help you with that:
start with a donkey
add some kittens
might as well throw in an optical illusion floor while we're at it
and a rainbow of coloured pencils
and cherry blossoms, just to cover all the bases
(Thanks to Pixabay for all pictures except the checkered floor. I neglected to record source details for that one . . . if I can figure it out, I'll edit later to include that. My thanks, and apologies, to the source in the meantime.)