A Resource Tool for Policy Makers on Plastic Shopping Bags

How to Use This Website

The Bag Science website has been designed as a resource tool for government, policymakers, key decision-makers and anyone interested in the science of plastic shopping bags. It provides analyses of reduction programs, scientific studies done by governments, fact sheets on topical issues like litter and entanglements, Life Cycle Analyses (LCA’s), poll results, audit summaries and technical reports to address the myths and misinformation around plastic.

Smart bag policy on the management of plastic in Canada needs to examine how people use plastic and plastic shopping bags in their daily lives and their necessity; what will be substituted if the bags are removed from the market, what is the environmental impact following their removal, and what happens to the health and safety of Canadians when plastic is eradicated from the market?

What are the unintended consequences of changes in plastic policy? What are the impacts on the environment, the economy and what are the social impacts?

Public discourse on the issue is often driven by a lot of misinformation and a single-minded focus on the environment.  Environmental NGOs have painted a damning picture of plastic shopping bags. So why has the European Union not banned them as part of their single-use strategy?

The science and data tell a very different story about plastic shopping bags. This story shows that plastic shopping bags are the best bag environmentally; have the lowest carbon footprint of all bags on the market; are 100% recyclable in Canada; have double-digit reuse rates hovering around 80-90%; and are not single use. And how people use bags has changed; they have reduced their usage; they reuse and they recycle their bags.

Most important, plastic shopping bags are multi-use, multi-purpose bags that have the added benefit of protecting our health and preventing the transmission of disease. During the pandemic, plastic shopping bags were declared an essential industry.

Click through the Resources section below for further information.

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The Public Health Benefits of Bags can no longer be Ignored

This website will show the considerable research and study that has gone into proving the efficacy of plastic environmentally and its importance in protecting the health of Canadians.  The challenge is to ensure that decisions made in bag policy are based on science and to frame the plastic debate with a focus on science and fact, rather than emotion.

The debate on plastic bags has moved forward from a single-minded focus on sustainability and the environment. As the pandemic has shown us when plastic bags were declared an essential industry in the fight to prevent the transfer of the virus, plastic bag policies need to take a hard look at public health. Bag ban policies can no longer ignore public health and the role these bags play in protecting the health of Canadians from not just the coronavirus, but other food-borne, noxious pathogens that cause illness in millions of Canadians each year and can even cause death.

Plastic shopping bags, as the “first-use” option, are the most sanitary bag choice to prevent the transmission of disease. During the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists found that the coronavirus can survive for 72 hours on a plastic surface and since very few people wash or sanitize their reusable bags regularly, reusable bags can carry the coronavirus and other pathogens from grocery store to the home.

The public health benefit will not evaporate once the pandemic passes. If plastic bag bans proceed, in the event of another pandemic, Canadians will no longer have the capability to produce bags to protect Canadians and will need to rely on imports from China to prevent viral spread. Once the capacity to produce bags is gone, it is gone forever.

Made in Canada

Catalogue of Resources and Studies for Reference

 

+ Studies

  • Stifling economic recovery, Canada’s plastic ban will do more harm than good
    Banning Is Counterintuitive to Stimulating the Economy – As Canada looks towards recovering from one of the country’s largest economic downturns, it goes without saying that placing blanket-bans on several products could have large implications for employment in the future. In 2019, nearly 100,000 Canadians were directly employed in the plastics industry, generating nearly CAD$35 billion in taxable sales for the federal government. With the current proposed ban, these jobs along with several others within the plastics supply chain, are suddenly in jeopardy.
  • Canada Plastics Market Overview
    Canada Plastics Market size is forecast to reach $29.8 billion by 2025, after growing at a CAGR of 3.3% during 2020-2025. Plastic waste reduction and various recycling programs have become a priority around the globe for both developed and developing nations. As a result, governments in various regions are introducing policies and regulations to regulate the production of waste, to promote the reuse and recycling of plastic waste, and to encourage the comprehensive disposal of waste. In order to encourage efficient waste management, governments also implement landfill taxes, waste disposal taxes, recycling credit programs, deposit rebate systems, etc. It is expected that these steps by governments in different states will further promote the growth of the plastics industry.
  • Plastic Market Size, Share & Trends ReportThe global plastic market size was valued at USD 579.7 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.4% from 2021 to 2028. Increasing plastic consumption in the construction, automotive, and electrical & electronics industries is projected to support market growth over the forecast period.
  • Sector Profile – Canadian Plastics Processing Sector Overview
    Canadian sales revenue in the plastics processing sector exceeded $38 billion in 2004. This chapter discusses some of the major economic factors that affect Canadian processors’ ability to compete in international markets. Trade balances and trends are also examined.

+ Canadian Manufacturers – a sampling

+ Recyclers – Sample of National Network

+ Recycling Innovators

+ Recovery Pilot

Commentary

Almost all (90%) of the plastic grocery bags used by Canadian retailers are made in Canada. Ontario has many of Canada’s plastic bag manufacturers – many of which are family-run businesses and are Canadian-owned.  50% of the businesses are located in the GTA, but the other 50% are located in smaller communities across the province.

The local production of plastic shopping bags is important as it helps reduce the carbon footprint of bag manufacture and transport. Local production eliminates transportation and the higher carbon footprint associated with cross-country or international shipping related to importing bags from Asia. Local production reduces emissions resulting from strong environmental controls on Canadian manufacturers who all use green manufacturing processes that capture air and water emissions

Manufacturers of plastic shopping bags are big employers in Canada. Employment in plastic bag and film manufacturing spans a value chain of machinists, engineers, resin companies, manufacturers, recyclers and remanufacturers. As many as 10,900 Ontarians are employed directly by the plastics sector (Source: Industry Canada, Canadian Plastics Industry Association).

This is the same in the United States where the industry reports that 72.5% of plastic shopping bags are made in the U.S. and not offshore.

Public Health Research

Catalogue of Resources and Studies to Review on Public Health Concerns with Reusable Bags

The public health research on reusable bags has focused has focused on different areas:

  1. Cross Contamination Research – the interior of bags can become an active microbial habitat and breeding ground for viruses, coliform bacteria, yeast and mold concluding that can cross contaminate any food placed in the bag and pose a significant public health risk for foodborne illness.
  2. Transmission Research – the exterior of the bag can become a transmission device for any noxious virus or bacteria transporting and spreading the pathogens in stores to carts, products, checkout lines and people.
  3. COVID Research – tied to transmission research and bag cleanliness this research examines the potential of carry bags to harbour and spread the coronavirus in retail settings.
  4. Impact of Bag Bans on Disease Spread – limited research but strong evidence that bag bans can accelerate the transmission of disease at the community level.
  5. Bag Cleanliness – how consumers maintain the cleanliness of their reusable bags has an impact on public health. This is consumer usage research.

+ Cross Contamination Research

  • Sporometrics Study
    A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and `First or single-use’ Plastic Bags

    This was a ground-breaking study, the first in North America, of the potential public health risks posed by unwashed reusable bags. The study looked at the potential for reusable bags to become contaminated over time and act as an incubator for the growth of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold. It raised a red flag that these pathogens could then contaminate any foods carried in the bag and ultimately case a foodborne illness. Already foodborne illnesses lead to 11,000 ER visits a year and in extreme cases, death.The report was written by Dr. Richard Summerbell, Ph. D.  who is Director of Research Services at Sporometrics, in Toronto Canada. Sporometrics are experts in environmental and medical microbiology. Dr. Summerbell is also Associate Professor, Occupational & Environmental Health Division, at the University of Toronto.

+ Transmission Research

  • Norovirus transmitted from Reusable Bag
    The Case of the Contaminated, Reusable Grocery Bag
    Writing in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, available here online, Keene and Repp explain how in October 2010, a group of Oregon soccer players, 13 and 14 years old, and some adult chaperones, came down with norovirus during a tournament in Washington state.
  • Loma Linda University School of Public Health
    The Spread of a Norovirus Surrogate via Reusable Grocery Bags in a Grocery Supermarket
    The conventional supermarket represents an important public access to a wide variety of food that is vital for healthy families. The supermarket is also a location where food, the public, and pathogens can meet. The purpose of this study was to develop and test a hypothesized norovirus transmission pathway via reusable grocery bags (RGBs) within a conventional grocery supermarket.

+ Covid-19 Research on Reusable Bags

  • John Hopkins University
    Letter to the New England Journal of Medicine on the aerosol and surface stability of COVID 19 now called SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1
    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
    John Hopkins Medical School, the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Health, Princeton University, UCLA.This letter was published on March 17, 2020, at NEJM.org, and signed by 13 scientists.

+ Impact of Plastic Bag Bans on Disease Spread

  • University of Pennsylvania Law School
    Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness
    Research conducted by Jonathan Klick and Joshua D. Wright from the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Law & Economics research paper concluded that the San Francisco ban on plastic bags has led to an increase in bacterial foodborne illnesses and deaths. Klick & Wright found that San Francisco’s policy of banning of plastic bags has caused a significant increase in gastrointestinal bacterial infections and a “46 percent increase in the deaths from foodborne illnesses”.

+ Bag Cleanliness

 

Commentary

Protecting the health of Canadians is the most important benefit that plastic shopping bags offer us as a society. Research into how the coronavirus is transmitted during the pandemic resulted in reusables being banned temporarily over transmission fears and plastic shopping bags being declared the go-to-choice. Their manufacture was declared essential.

As a first-use bag, plastic shopping bags are the most hygienic bag on the market because they have not yet been exposed to the pathogens that cause foodborne illness or COVID.

On top of that, if reused again as a carry bag, plastic shopping bags can be easily cleaned to remove any bacteria, virus, mold or fungi that can adhere to and grow in the bag. Unfortunately, research shows that the majority of reusable bag users do not clean their reusables very often, if at all. This poses a health risk.

If reusables are cleaned after every use, this cleaning destroys 99% of the pathogens like e-Coli, salmonella, listeria etc. that cause 11,000 hospital visits to the ER each year in Canada.

There has been considerable public health research on bags; much of it focused on reusable bags and their ability to act as an incubator and transmitter of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold.

All studies found that dirty reusable bags pose a potential health risk for foodborne disease that hospitalizes 11,000 Canadians a year and that washing or cleaning reusable bags removes 99.9% of all pathogens.

Recycling

Catalogue of Resources and Studies to Review on Recycling of Bags in Canada

  • City of Toronto
    Plastic bags – recycling process
    Polyethylene film plastic bags are accepted in the City’s blue bin recycling program where they are separated (using hand sorting and a vacuum system) from …

Commentary

Recycling Facts – Let’s start with the basic facts about bag recycling:

  • Plastic shopping bags are 100% recyclable in Canada. And they are actually recycled in Canada.
  • There is a network of recyclers who recycle plastic shopping bags coast to coast – companies like EFS-Plastics in Ontario, Merlin Plastics, Waste Connections of Canada, and GFL Environmental Inc. and Inteplast in Atlantic Canada.

  • Plastic bag recycling and manufacturing are big business in Canada employing thousands of Canadians in facilities across the country.
  • 90% of plastic shopping bags used in grocery stores are made in Canada and contain 15 – 20% recycled content at a minimum. (Most reusable bags are not recyclable)
  • Bags are recycled in curbside programs; depots and many retailers offer consumers take back to retail recycling. Plastic bags are now being used to recycle organics to help divert them from landfill.
  • The market for recycled plastic shopping bags across North America is a $2 billion market.
  • Bags are recycled into a wide range of consumer products outdoor furniture, decking, toys, office supplies or back into bags in bag-to-bag circular recycling programs.
  • Toronto’s Western Beaches boardwalk, for example, is a plastic lumber boardwalk, made from 32 million recycled plastic shopping bags.

  • Recycling of bags varies by region and community, but in each province the combined reuse-recycling rate is very high in the 90%+ range; approaching zero waste.
  • Many retailers offer take-back-to-retail bag recycling.
  • Ontario is reported to have 96% reuse-recycling rate. The Ontario Bag Task Group Report shows a 37% recycling rate, a 59% reuse rate and 4% wastage.
  • Some provinces where the reuse rate is so high, the recycling of bags is quite low because the bags are just not available for recycling. Quebec, for example, has a 77% reuse rate, a 15% recycling rate and 8% wastage, but still has a combined 92-93% reuse-recycle rate.

Canadians Want to Have the Choice to Recycle

Study after study of Canadian usage patterns of conventional plastic shopping bags clearly shows that Canadians want choice; the choice to reduce, reuse and recycle.

A 2012 survey conducted in the City of Toronto found that 82% wanted the option to practice the 3R’s including recycling. In a 2015 CROP poll (upload and link), 71% of Montrealer’s indicated that they wanted the choice to practice the 3R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic shopping bags.

 

Fees and Taxes

Catalogue of Resources/Studies to Review

 

+ City of Toronto – Toronto 5 Cent Bag Fee

  • Bag Fee Declared a Success
    Jun 4, 2013 — The 5-cent charge, along with increased public education, was effective in reducing the generation of plastic shopping carryout bags in the City’s waste stream. Single-family waste audits showed a 53% reduction between 2008 (before 5-cent charge) and 2012 (when fee was in effect)
  • Bag Fee Rescinded Because of its Success
    Voluntary Contributions of Plastic Bag Fee Proceeds … Plastic Bag Fee program a success and rescind the Plastic Bag Fee Bylaw effective July 1, 2012. … donating a portion of their bag fee profits to the City of Toronto’s tree canopy program.
  • 5 cent charge – plastic bag ban – City of Toronto
    As of Sunday, July 1, 2012 retail businesses in Toronto no longer need to charge customers a five-cent fee for plastic carry-out shopping bags. The Toronto Municipal Code Provision which required retailers to charge a fee for plastic carry-out bags was rescinded by Toronto City Council at its June 6, 2012 meeting.

 

+ Ireland Bag Tax

  • Imports of bags into the Republic of Ireland from EU & Non-EU Countries
    Source: Her Majesty’s Customs Department Importation Statistics on all bags imported in Ireland.
  • Tax came into effect in 2002 (see*) but actually consumption of plastic increased by 20.1% (2006 vs. 2002)

Sacks and Bags of Polymer of Ethylene 39231200
TONNES – 1996 – 2006

+ Scotland Bag Levy

+ Washington D.C. Bag Tax

  • Skip the Bag, Save the River
    Businesses that sell food or alcohol in DC must charge a $.05 bag fee and remit a portion of these fees to the Office of Tax and Revenue. The business retains…

Commentary

Bag fees work to permanently reduce the use of plastic shopping bags. Bag fees immediately remove non-essential bags.

They have proven to be the most effective reduction strategy to achieve reductions in bag usage and the educate consumers about the importance of reduction, reuse and recycling. They are effective because they offer consumers real choices and are constant reminder with each bag purchase at checkout to use the bag wisely – reduce, reuse and recycle.

Fees put a monetary value on the bags and essentially force consumers to think about whether they need a bag. Consumers are forced to make a conscious decision to purchase a bag.

Taxes, on the other hand, are effective in reducing numbers of bags distributed but have the unintended consequence of forcing people into more carbon intensive alternatives like paper bags and even reusables if they are not reused 125 times.

Benefits of Bag Fees

The real benefit of bag fees is that they do not force consumers to substitute alternatives that have a much higher carbon footprint. In Ireland, a bag tax led to a 400% increase in paper bag usage and a 70%+ increase in the purchase of much thicker plastic kitchen catchers to manage household waste.

Fees work. It is a voluntary approach that leads to dramatic reductions in bag use. When Toronto introduced a 5-cent bag fee, the number of bags distributed declined 53%. And when coupled with public education and awareness-building campaigns can lead to major gains in reuse. Manitoba has now achieved a 91% reuse rate on plastic shopping bags using ongoing community based public education.

Fees are successful because they are administered at point of purchase when the consumer is a captive audience, and in that moment has to think about the bag and its necessity.

The average bag fee is 5-cents. Retailers benefit financially, but they are instrumental curbing consumer demand for the bags. They are actually performing a service at checkout, particularly when coupled with “Do-you-need-a-bag” reminders.

In Canada, bag fees were essential to the rapid success of the province-wide 50% bag reduction programs in Quebec and Ontario. Bag fees work because they give consumers choice and the opportunity to practise the 3R’s, but at a price. They are also a constant reminder of the important role each consumer can play in protecting the environment.

Bag taxes are very unpopular. Taxes eliminate consumer choice and undermine consumer responsibility for product stewardship. Bag taxes are coercive forcing consumers to substitute alternative bags that have a higher environmental impact.

Bag taxes are not as effective as fees. While they can be very effective at curbing consumer demand for the bags and result in dramatic reductions in the number of bags distributed, taxes have a negative impact on the environment because the substitute bags are more carbon intensive.

Taxes tend to lead to non-compliance. Ireland’s bag tax was highly successful in reducing the number of plastic bags distributed by 90% but the government had to increase the tax multiple times to achieve its 90% reduction goal.

And the substitution came with a high environmental cost. The substitutes have a much higher carbon footprint. In Ireland, use of paper bags increased 400% and because of the 70%+ increase in the use of thicker kitchen catchers to manage household waste, imports of plastic into Ireland increased 20.1%.

Zero Waste

Catalogue of Resources/Studies

 

+ Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment Zero Plastic Waste Strategy

  • https://ccme.ca/en/res/strategyonzeroplasticwaste.pdf

    In 2018, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, after years of negotiation, agreed on a national strategy to better manage plastics, eliminate plastic from landfill and ensure that plastics do not end up in the environment. The overall goal was to recognize the critical importance of plastic to modern life and keep it in the economy as long as possible.

+ Government of Canada

+ City of Toronto

+ Life Cycle Analyses – Reuse Rates

+ Quebec Government LCA

+ Denmark Government LCA Ministry of Environment and Food

+U.K. Government LCA Environment Agency

+ Clemson University

+ Decima Studies

+ Websites for further information:

Commentary

Waste diversion focuses on conserving the resource (in this case, bags) and extending the life of a landfill. The aim is to divert as much material as possible from ending up in landfill as garbage.

The goal is zero waste and the plastic resource kept circulating in the economy as long as possible.

Plastic shopping bags are a valuable resource that should not be wasted but should be reused over and over again and at the end of their useful life captured and recycled. It is not waste. Most people do not know that plastic shopping bags are frozen pieces of natural gas, clean energy or that they are 100% recyclable.

Plastic bags are a tiny fraction of landfill by weight and by volume. They comprise less than 1% of landfill and the waste stream. There are a number of diversion strategies in use by municipalities to divert bags from the waste stream, based on the 3 Rs.

For plastic shopping bags, most municipalities in Canada have sophisticated recovery systems using blue, green, and grey bins/boxes to pre-sort material for diversion. The City of Toronto even uses the plastic shopping bag for its organics program by providing residents with a practical and easily accessible tool to use to collect their green waste.

Zero Plastic Waste is 100% Achievable

A well-functioning circular economy is 100% achievable on plastic shopping bags. The bags, unlike reusable bags, are manufactured right here in Canada producing thousands of green jobs. The bags can also be recycled right here in Canada unlike reusables which are not recycled at all because it is too expensive to deconstruct them into the various materials that make up the bag. Reusables end up in landfill usually.

The National Zero Plastic Waste Strategy agreed to by all provinces

In 2018, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment after years of negotiation agreed on a national strategy, the Zero Plastic Waste Strategy, to better manage plastics and eliminate plastic from landfill and ensure that plastics do not end up in the environment. The overall goal was to recognize the critical importance of plastic to modern life and keep it in the economy as long as possible. Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste – CCME

The provinces have been working hard on improvements to their waste management systems and implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). They are building local solutions to meet local conditions and needs.

Littering in Canada – The Facts

Catalogue of Resources

 

+ Studies

+ Canadian Product Stewardship and 3R’s

Commentary

Plastic shopping bags are not a litter problem in Canada, bag litter is a serious problem internationally. Canadians are not major plastic polluters according to international oceanographers who have measured plastic pollution in our oceans. In Canada the problem of plastic in the environment is less than 1% of all plastic produced.  Canada ranks 187 out of 192 as one of the smallest polluters of our oceans and that is mainly fishing gear.

Canada does not have a plastic pollution problem. And it does not have a plastic bag litter problem either. In Canada, it is a small 1% problem.

The federal government commissioned a study titled “Economic Study of the Canadian Plastics Industry, Markets and Waste” which found that plastic leakage into nature is very small and is mainly due to poorly managed landfills and litter.

Banning single use plastics in Canada will not solve the problem of ocean plastic pollution, especially because Canada is not a major contributor to ocean plastic pollution.

The definitive Jambeck study of ocean litter found that Canada contributes less than 0.01% to the ocean plastic problem.

And out of 192 countries Canada was at the bottom of the heap of plastic ocean polluters. Canada ranked 187 out of 192 countries.

A Canadian ban on single use plastics will not even to begin to solve the oceans plastic pollution problem. Why? Because Canada’s federal government is completely ignoring the core problems causing ocean litter – Pacific Rim countries dumping waste into the ocean and anti-social littering behaviour by Canadians.

Are Reusable Bags Greener than Conventional Plastic Bags?

It depends.

Catalogue of Resources

 

+ All About Reusable Bags

 

+ Life Cycle Analyses

+ Health Canada

+ Health Studies

+ Decima Studies

Commentary

The answer is YES AND NO. Reusable bags are not necessarily greener and better for the environment than conventional plastic shopping bags. They must be reused 100+ times, as intended, to be greener.

There are many misconceptions and a lot of misinformation around reusable bags and their environmental superiority over thinner plastic shopping bags used largely in grocery stores.

Reusable bags are not necessarily greener and better for the environment than conventional plastic shopping bags.

All bags have environmental impacts, so it depends on the type of bag, how it is used, and most importantly, how often it is used. Scientific study after scientific study shows that conventional plastic shopping bags are the best bag alternatives for the environment, particularly if reused more than once.

On a life cycle basis, stronger, heavier bags made to last longer – no matter what material they are made from – will have a greater environmental impact because they use more resources in their production and produce more carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. And some natural materials like cotton/canvas, for example, require excessive pesticide use and water in the growing process which have negative environmental impacts.

The most important points are:

  1. Reusables are not recycled because it is too expensive so they eventually will end up in landfill thrown out as waste. As multi-material bags, they must be disassembled into the different materials that make up the bag.
  2. Reusables can pose a public health risk as we discovered during COVID because users do not clean their bags regularly. A vast majority of users rarely clean their bags and they can become incubators and transmitters of various types of viruses, bacteria, mold and fungi.
  3. Reusables are not reused enough by users to justify the amount of resources used to make them even though they are built to last for 125 reuses. A U.S. study found that reusable bags are reused on average only about 15 times.

The question is whether reusable bags are a viable substitute for conventional plastic bags. Are they better for the environment and do they protect our health? The answer is “no” not presently.

The answer is that reusable bags can be a good alternative if reused enough; if they are reused 125 times; but they are not. They can be a good substitute if they are washed after every use; but they are not. And most important in terms of their environmental impact and our ability to build a circular economy, they can be a good substitute if recycled in Canada; but they are not.

The current stable of reusables could be made to be a lot greener.

A viable substitute, a new and improved reusable bag, is needed to address reusable bag failings. It is already being used in some states in the U.S. like California. The new and improved reusable plastic bag is thick (50 microns), is 100% recyclable, contains 25%+ recycled content, and can withstand 100+ reuses. And because the improved bag is made of polyethylene, it is easy to keep clean after every use. Just rinse it with water and hang it up to dry.

Degrade in Landfill

Catalogue of Resources/Studies to Review on How Landfills Work

+ All About Bags
  • Eco Products: The Myth of Biodegradation
    Reality: Nothing biodegrades in a landfill because nothing is supposed to. … in landfills are slowly releasing methane today as they anaerobically degrade, but …
  • This is Plastics – Things You Might Not Know About Landfills
    Think you send waste to the landfill, so it biodegrades or decomposes? It’s actually the opposite, which is why recycling and composting are so important.

    1. Landfills are designed to prevent waste from biodegrading.
    2. It takes glass much longer to degrade in a landfill than plastic.
    3. It’s better for waste to end up in a landfill than to end up as litter, but recycling should always be the first option.
  • Toronto District School Board – Waste Timeline
    Waste Timeline:
    Decomposition* and degradation* times for all waste varies depending on the environment; exposure to oxygen, water, air, acids, bases, temperature and living organisms will all affect the time.
  • European Commission: Biodegradable Waste
    Currently the main environmental threat from biowaste (and other biodegradable waste) is the production of methane from such waste decomposing in landfills, which accounted for some 3% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-15 in 1995.
  • Live Science: What Happens Inside a Landfill?
    Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it, according to the NSWMA. But garbage in a landfill does decompose, albeit slowly and in a sealed, oxygen-free environment. Because of the lack of oxygen, bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous if allowed to collect underground. It is also a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming.
  • Texas Disposal Systems: How do Landfills Work?
    As the waste breaks down within the landfill under that final cover, it eventually creates methane and carbon dioxide gas from the decay. While the carbon dioxide filters itself out naturally through the Cell’s liquid filtration process, the methane needs to be collected to be vented, burned, or converted into energy.

Commentary

Opponents of plastic shopping bags believe that plastic bags that go to landfill should degrade and not last a ‘thousand’ years. That bags should be biodegradable.

This is a bad policy idea. This would mean that the bags would decay and release GHGs which would need to be captured. Fugitive emissions from landfills are a serious GHG pollution problem for Canada.

Modern landfills are designed to keep what enters the landfill inert. They are low-oxygen environments engineered to prevent decay and the production of noxious greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide which can escape into the air fuelling climate change as well as leachate, which pollutes ground water and the soil.

In a properly engineered landfill, nothing is meant to degrade. Bags of all materials – cotton, paper, plastic and reusables – will not decompose.

Even with strong preventative measures in place, fugitive emissions from landfills are a concern. In Canada, according to Environment Canada, landfills are still responsible for 20% of national methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential because it traps 21 times more heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide.

Technology and Innovation

Catalogue of Resources:

 

  • Pyrowave
    Located in Oakville, Ontario, Pyrowave patented microwave de-polymerization technology to turn mixed plastic waste with or without food contamination back into feedstock to be used to make new plastic again and over again.
  • GreenMantra Technologies
    Located in Brantford, Ontario, GreenMantra Technologies uses molecular recycling – a thermo-catalytic depolymerization technology to turn waste plastics – polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene (clean and dirty, any colour) –   into speciality polymers and wax additives. Ready markets include road building as wax additives boost performance of asphalt making it last longer, food packaging upcycling, roofing, and plastic polymer markets.
  • BBL Energy Inc. Waste Conversion Systems
    Located in Johnstown, Ontario, BBL Energy Inc. uses a molecular thermal technology – pyrolysis – to convert waste plastic into industrial fuels like pyrolysis Oil, Carbon Black and Hydrocarbon Gas new polymers without burning the plastic waste and breaking the molecules down in an oxygen-free environment.
  • ReVital Polymers Inc.
    Located in Sarnia, Ontario, ReVital Polymers Inc. built a circular economy model from waste to end market for dirty PS Traditional recycling, adopting new technologies – buying equipment from Pyrowave, a strategic partnership agreement with Green Mantra, and a strategic partnership with end market INEOS, who can use recycled styrene.
  • INEOS Styrolution
    Located in Sarnia, Ontario, and headquartered in Germany, INEOS Styrolution is a global leader in styrenics that manufactures and supplies polystyrene for various food packaging applications and consumer goods products.
  • Improving Plastics Recovery – Innovations
    London Hefty Bag
    London, Ontario is pilot testing the Hefty Energy Bag. The “Hefty Energy Bag” pilot program includes 13,000 London households and will allow residents to recycle a long list of products that are not covered by the regular blue box program, including candy wrappers, foam containers, plastic straws and stirrers, food bags, and more. The material that is collected will be recycled into plastic composites that can be reused in construction materials, plastic lumber and outdoor furniture — even into aggregates that can be incorporated in concrete blocks. It can also be chemically converted into transportation fuels or chemical feedstocks to create new materials.

Commentary

The plastics industry is constantly evolving and coming up with new, innovative ideas to recover and recycle plastics. Plastics are a key material at the heart of almost every industry in Canada. Advancements and innovation in medicine, transportation, food packaging, food service, agriculture, aerospace, electronics, computers and a whole range of consumer products rely on plastics for their remarkable qualities.

Plastic is a valuable resource that should be used and reused over and over again. That is why the recovery and recycling of plastic products is so important. The industry has spent millions on research. The result has been major technology advances in recovery and recycling for both plastic shopping bags and plastic film. Major breakthroughs are enabling the recycling of other plastics previously considered to be hard-to-recycle plastics like dirty polystyrene foam food packaging and black plastics.

Recent Recovery Advances

  1. Bag-to-Bag Recycling: This is a Canadian first. Canadians invented bag-to-bag recycling for plastic shopping bags. Here plastic bags are returned to retail by consumers and then sent back to the bag manufacturer to be remade back into new plastic shopping bags. This concept led to an expansion of take-back-to-retail programs for plastic shopping bags across Canada and many retailers still offer this service.
  2. Blue Box Recycling: Again, another Canadian first, this curbside collection system is used to recovery a wide range of food packaging so that it can be sent to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where it is sorted and sent to different material recyclers who purchase the material. It generally is a single-stream system, but more and more municipalities have added a green bin to recycle organics.
  3. Curbside Recovery of Hard-to-Recycle Plastics: Most plastics are recycled using mechanical recycling, but there are a growing number of successful companies across Canada that are using breakthrough technologies to recycle what were once considered hard-to-recycle-plastics. These include BBL Energy, Green Mantra, Enterra, Revital Polymers, Pyrowave, and Agilyx to mention a few.

Pilot Test to Recover Hard to Recycle Plastics

New ways to recover plastic products currently excluded from the blue box are being introduced. London Ontario is pilot testing the Hefty Energy Bag. “Hefty Energy Bag” pilot program where 13,000 London households are being encouraged to use orange bags to collect a laundry list of single-use, hard-to-recycle plastics for reuse, ranging from candy wrappers to milk bags, straws, plastic cutlery, plastic bags, even foam packing items not accepted in the city’s blue box program.

Recent Recycling Advances

      1. Detangling Equipment for Plastic Film Recycling: One of the biggest excuses not to recycle plastic bags and film is that the bags and film get tangled jamming the machinery forcing shutdowns. However, there has been a major breakthrough to get rid of this issue.

        Examples:
        Van Dyk Recycling Solutions:
        Lubo Non-Wrapping 440 ONP Screen
        A high-capacity ONP (Office Newspaper) screen that resists wrapping for an entire shift. Specially designed stars do not become loaded with film or other stringy material and do not let the separation capabilities of the screen become compromised. Peak performance for an entire shift and takes mere minutes to clean.
        CP Group:
        CP Anti-Wrap Screen
        Flex-packing and film tend to wrap around standard screen shafts. The CP Anti-Wrap Screen™ has high-agitation discs and extra-large rotor shafts to mitigate wrapping and reduce jamming. Because it runs at peak performance for every shift, the result is higher quality paper and container streams.
      2. Green Bin Organic Recycling: The most advanced is the City of Toronto which uses the plastic shopping bag as the recycling device. The plastic bag minimizes the “yuk” factor. The plastic bag filled with organics is put into the curbside green bin and put out at curbside where it is collected and sent to the recycler.
      3.  

         

      4. Mechanical Recycling and the Invention of Plastic Lumber: Originally invented in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers University, the process turns used plastic packaging into structural plastic lumber; a recycled plastic strong enough to be used to make bridges, decks and walkways. It is longer lasting than lumber, water resistant, pest resistant and strong. There are two different types of plastic-lumber products—the “composites” (wood products made from a mix of plastics and natural fibers) and the “wood-like” products made solely from plastics. The City of Toronto Western Beaches boardwalk was made using plastic lumber made from 35 million plastic shopping bags recycled locally.
      5.  

      6. Plastic Film Detection Systems for Microbes: Plastic films play an important role in protecting our food from contamination. Technology advances at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario will allow the plastic film that protects our food to be programmed to detect deadly E.-coli bacteria without opening the package. How a bacteria-detecting strip of plastic film could help identify contaminated food
      7.  

      8. New 21st Century Recycling Technology Breakthroughs: Depolymerization, Dissolution, and Thermal Recycling: These technologies are revolutionizing the way post-consumer plastic packaging is recycled and paving the way to the circular economy. This range of new technologies are also called chemical recycling because they breakdown the chemistry of the polymers of the plastic product and return it to its original monomer form.The exciting thing about these new technologies is that it means 100% recovery of all plastic waste is possible.Now, hard to recycle plastics like dirty polystyrene, pouches, straws, stir sticks and black plastics can now be diverted from municipal landfills and recycled using depolymerization recycling.
         
        Technologies Already Successfully Being Commercialized in Canada
         
        There are a number of companies already recycling these plastics back into new products – GreenMantra, Revital Polymers, Pyrowave, Enterra and Agilyx.

         
        For example, GreenMantra is helping build green roads in Vancouver BC using recycled food=soiled polystyrene which has been made into an additive for the asphalt mix. The additive helps lengthen the life of the road, its flexibility and allows road construction to start earlier in the spring.
         
        (i) Molecular Recycling (De-polymerization) – Polystyrene (PS), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
        Molecular recycling uses a microwave technique to break apart post-use plastic like polystyrene restoring it to its original molecular or monomer state. It does not matter if it is soiled or clean, rigid or foam, the result is a recycled purified resin identical to virgin resin that can be used in any medical or food application.And it is better for the environment. Molecular recycling uses 15 times less energy and reduces GHGs 3 times.The plastic is just like new. Takeout food packaging, in-store meat trays, egg cartons, cups, etc.
         
        (ii) Conversion or Thermal Recycling – PE, PP, PS
        Thermal techniques (pyrolysis and gasification) are used to turn plastics into chemical components for plastics processing or into combustible liquid fuels. These technologies work in oxygen-free environments enabling the use of extremely high heat to convert the plastic with no burn. Similar to molecular recycling, the high heat breaks apart the molecular bonds of the polymers back to their original monomer form plastic. The key difference is that the outputs are usually liquid or gaseous. This recycled plastic can be reused to make food packaging, medical supplies, plastic lumber and fuel. They reduce the need to depend on virgin plastic or the current practice of exporting hard to recycle plastics abroad.
         
        (iii) Dissolution Recycling – Polyethylene films (PE), Polystyrene (PS), Polypropylene (PP)

        It involves dissolving the plastic in a solvent, then separating and purifying the mix. Potential applications are numerous.

Covid-19 Suspensions

Catalogue of Resources to Review COVID Suspensions and Alternatives to Plastic Shopping Bags

During the coronavirus pandemic, the use of reusable bags in retail establishments was temporarily banned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after scientists discovered that the virus could survive for 72 hours on hard surfaces like plastic. To protect consumers and front-line workers, the only bag allowed in retail stores was the conventional plastic shopping bag (aka “single-use”) because it is the most sanitary bag being a “first-use” bag.

Retailers were concerned that because reusable bags are rarely washed by consumers, the bags might harbour the coronavirus on their surface and transport it throughout the store where it would contaminate multiple surfaces. Research shows that in Canada only 45% of users ever clean their reusable bag. Cleaning reusables removes 99% of all pathogens.

Fortunately, Canada still has the capacity to produce conventional plastic shopping bags so it could mobilize to help protect Canadians during the pandemic. The Canadian bag industry went into overdrive to meet the needs of retailers who wanted to help stop the spread of the virus. The bag industry even quietly donated close to half a million bags to food banks across Canada to food banks and help feed the most in need.

+ COVID-19 Transmission Research

  • Letter to the New England Journal of Medicine on the aerosol and surface stability of COVID 19 now called SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1
    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
    John Hopkins Medical School, the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Health, Princeton University, UCLAThis letter was published on March 17, 2020, at NEJM.org, and signed by 13 scientists.

+ Government Suspensions

+ Retail Suspensions

  • United Food & Commercial Workers Letter to BC Government – March 17, 2020
    UFCW 1518 calls on BC Government to take action to protect grocery and pharmacy workers
    https://www.ufcw1518.com/assets/media/kn-harry-bains-covid-19-1.pdfTemporarily ban reusable bags
    Enact a temporary ban on reusable bags in grocery stores and pharmacies. These bags can act as vectors for the COVID-19 contagion, spreading the virus from location to location.Implementing these important measures will help front-line grocery and pharmacy workers to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping themselves and their loved ones safe.

+ Fast Food Outlets Suspend Use of Reusables

Reduction Strategies

Catalogue of Resources

 

+ Voluntary Bag Reduction Programs

+ Bag Fees and Taxes

+ Changing Consumer Behaviour

Commentary

There are a wide range of reduction strategies designed to reduce the number of conventional plastic shopping bags distributed at checkout. The objective of reduction strategies is to minimize non-essential and wasteful bag usage practices like over-consumption, single use, littering, and end of life landfill disposal. Some are more effective than others.

Good reduction strategies are always voluntary and collaborative, designed to inform and persuade rather than dictate. They are grounded in product stewardship, the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – and understand that change in consumer behaviour is all about public education and it takes time.

Bag reduction strategies work and can lead to major decreases in the number of bags in the marketplace very quickly based on experience in Canada. Consumers just need to be shown the way.

Three provincial governments in Canada – Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba — have undertaken 50% reduction programs working with all private sector players – manufacturers and retailers. They have been highly successful in reducing the number of bags distributed and achieving higher reuse of the bags.

Ontario saw a 68% reduction in the number of bags distributed. Quebec reduced bag usage by 52%. The Province of Manitoba 50% reduction program has been so successful that it has achieved a 91% reuse of plastic shopping bags. Its success has been the result of the longevity of the program and ongoing public education.

Central to success in Canada has been the use of the following tactics: The reduction programs have been guided by:

  • A voluntary collaborative partnership between the government and the private sector
  • Government assuming a monitoring role of progress
  • Commitment to gradual but permanent behaviour change
  • Public education and awareness-building of responsible use
  • Consumers get to practice the 3R’s and allowed freedom of choice
  • Consumer adoption of reusable bags
  • Retailer commitment to in-store promotion and at-check-out programs to educate consumers
  • Retailer diversion programs, including in-store take-back and bag-to-bag recycling programs.
  • Implementation of bag fees

At the end of the day, it is all about consumer behaviour and personal responsibility to use these products wisely. Plastic shopping bags are a valuable resource that should be reused over and over again and at the end of their useful life as a carry bag recycled into a new product.

Irish Bag Tax

Catalogue of Resources and Studies to Review on the Irish Plastax – Pros and Cons

 

  • The National Litter Pollution Monitoring System Litter Monitoring Body – Annual Report for 2000/2001 February 2002
    Litter Quantification Survey Pages 14 & 15
  • Bag ‘Leakage’: The Effect of Disposable Carryout Bag Regulations on Unregulated Bags
    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2964036
    Rebecca Taylor | The University of Sydney – School of Economics | Date Written: November 13, 2018
    Abstract
    Leakage occurs when partial regulation of consumer products results in increased consumption of these products in unregulated domains. This article quantifies plastic leakage from the banning of plastic carryout bags.

Commentary

The Republic of Ireland in March 2002 imposed a 17-cent per bag tax on plastic shopping bags at checkout supposedly as an anti-litter initiative even though plastic bags represented less than 1% of litter. The tax was more a symbolic statement than a really effective anti-litter initiative. In fact, consumption of plastic increased in Ireland by 21% post-tax as consumers switched to alternatives.

It was not a fee, but a tax imposed on consumers to reduce consumption of the bags which had previously been handed out for free. Consumer resistance was strong, and the government had to keep increasing the tax until it became a de facto ban.

Multiple tax increases were necessary to discourage use. What started at about 23 cents (CDN) per bag, ended up at 35 cents (CDN) per bag.

The success of the tax as an anti-litter initiative was much trumpeted but called into question during hearings before the Scottish Committee examining the benefits and disbenefits of fees and taxes.

Ireland stated that the prime driver for the introduction of the tax was litter. The government held that plastic bags were 5% of litter when in fact, the bag litter number according to Ireland’s National Litter Monitoring Pollution System at the time was much lower at less than 1%. The actual number was 0.75 of 1% of litter, according to the 2002 National Litter Audit (pages 14-15).

Unintended Consequences of the Bag Tax – 2002

  • Pro and Con: The tax led to a 90% decrease in the number of plastic bags handed out at checkout but did not lead to a decrease in the amount of plastic consumed in Ireland or being sent to landfill.
  • Con: Consumption of plastic overall increased 21%.
  • Con: The bag tax led to a massive increase (+400%) of paper bags in the waste stream.
  • With little recycling capacity at all in Ireland in 2002 (most of the waste was exported), more waste ended up in landfill.

Alternatives are Worse Environmentally

Catalogue of Resources and Studies to Review on Alternatives to Plastic Shopping Bags

 

+ Plastic Bags and Your Health

+ The Science is clear: the conventional plastic bag is the best for the environment

Life Cycle Analyses

+ Quebec Government LCA

+ U.K. Government LCA Environment Agency

+ Denmark Government LCA Ministry of Environment and Food

Alternatives and Climate Impact

+ Eco-Bilan Carrefours Life Cycle Analysis, 2004

+ Franklin Associates

Life Cycle Impacts of Plastic Packaging compared to Substitutes in the United States and Canada

The Franklin Associates Substitution Analysis Life Cycle Impacts in Canada shows that the use of plastic packaging versus alternatives significantly reduces carbon emissions; eliminating 15.8 million metric tonnes of C02 emissions, which is like taking 3.3 million cars off the road each year.

Conclusion: A move away from plastics may come at a higher net environmental cost.

+ Trucost Study

  • Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs, and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement page 30
    https://www.marinelittersolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ACC-report_July-2016_v4.pdf
    Substitution of paper, glass, steel and aluminum for plastics in consumer products and packaging would increase net environmental costs fourfold. Why? Because 4 times more replacement material is required to do the same function; more material means more carbon, energy use and resources. The amount of additional waste generated varies by product category.

    Additional Metric Tonnes of Material Needed to Replace Plastics & Deliver Same Function

+ Clemson University

+ Polls

+ 2015 Crop Poll

Commentary

The Science Shows Alternatives are NOT Better Environmentally

The alternatives – the substitutes for plastic shopping bags – will only accelerate climate change.

Many people believe that reusables and paper bags are better environmentally and are good replacements for plastic shopping bags. But the science overwhelmingly does not support the elimination of plastic bags and substitution by these alternatives

The alternatives are not better. Let’s look at the impact of substitution on:

  • Climate change
  • Public Health
  • Zero Waste
  • The Circular Economy

Every Life Cycle Assessment proves that plastic shopping bags are the best bags environmentally because they have the lowest carbon footprint and global warming potential of all the bags of the market.

Multiple studies show that the manufacture of paper bags produces 4 times more carbon than the manufacture of plastic shopping bags. This negative impact on carbon emissions increases 7-fold when the respective bags are transported because both reusable and paper bags weigh so much more. They are just heavier. The 2018 Quebec Life Cycle Assessment found the paper bag to be the least performing bag environmentally with 4 to 28 times greater potential impacts than the conventional plastic bag.

And reusables are not reused enough to match the plastic shopping bag on global warming potential even if the plastic bag is used just once. The UK LCA had similar findings showing the environmental superiority of plastic shopping bags. It found that that a non-woven polypropylene reusable bags needs to be reused 11 times to match the environmental performance of the plastic shopping bag used just once. A cotton reusable has to be reused 131 times to match the environmental impact of a plastic shopping bag used just once.

Alternatives Do Not Offer the Same Level of Health Protection

Anti-plastic bag advocates, until the emergence of the coronavirus, completely ignored the public health benefits of plastic shopping bags and their role in stopping the transmission of harmful pathogens like the coronavirus and other disease-causing pathogens like the norovirus, e-Coli, and salmonella. Foodborne illness in Canada causes over 11,000 hospital visits a year and can lead to death. Only paper bags, as first use bags, would also offer a similar level of public health protection from the spread of viruses.

However, the use of reusable bags is very problematic because people rarely clean their reusables. Dirty reusable bags become petri dishes that can grow a wide range of bacteria, viruses, molds and fungi harmful to human health. Dirty reusables carry these harmful viruses and bacteria as we have seen with COVID into the store posing a public health threat so much so that many grocery retailers will not pack reusable bags.

The US Clemson Life Cycle Assessment reported that only 15% of reusable bag users washed their bags frequently. And it is no better in Canada. A recent Omnibus Poll found that 55% never wash their reusable even though it would remove 99.9% of harmful pathogens.

The inside of an unwashed reusable bag.

 
Alternatives to Plastic Shopping Bags Make Zero Waste Impossible

Not only do the substitutes for plastic shopping bags make zero waste impossible, but they are a barrier to achieving a circular plastics economy. Why? Because reusable bags, most made from plastic, are not recycled in North America. They end up being thrown out as waste in landfill and given the popularity of reusables, that is a lot of plastic.

Paper bags, on the positive, can be recycled but substituting paper for plastic will lead to a 7-fold increase the amount of waste that needs to be managed in the waste stream because paper bags are so much heavier and thicker. And GHG emissions will increase accordingly.  (Kraft paper bags weigh 56 grams, for instance, while plastic bags weigh on average 8 grams.) This means more trucks (7 times more) are needed to transport it and collect it at curbside.


Kitchen Catchers: One substitute largely ignored by anti-plastic advocates are kitchen catchers which consumers are forced to purchase to manage organics and other household waste if plastic shopping bags are no longer on the market. Kitchen catchers are thicker plastic kitchen catchers which can contain anywhere from 50-70% more plastic than the thinner plastic bags. The 2015 Crop Poll of Montrealer’s found that 78% of Montrealer’s reuse their plastic shopping bag to manage household waste.

Substitution of kitchen catchers means more plastic, not less plastic, being consumed. Proof comes to us from Ireland where a very high tax on bags (the exorbitant plastax) led to a 21% increase in the amount of plastic consumed.

Plastic shopping bags on the other hand are 100% recyclable and can be easily diverted from landfill, recovered and recycled into new plastic resin.

Littering – China and Pacific Rim Countries

Catalogue of References

 

+ Pacific Rim Countries Dumping Waste into the Ocean

Commentary

Overall, worldwide, most of the plastic trash in the ocean comes from Asia. In fact, the top six countries for ocean garbage are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are dumping more plastic into oceans than the rest of the world combined, according to a 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy.

An estimated 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources, with 50% originating from just five Asian economies: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. As economic growth has increased in these countries, so has plastic consumption, which has outpaced the development of effective solid waste management systems.

China is one of the biggest polluters. They dump millions of tonnes of plastic into the ocean each year.

Public Education

Catalogue of References

Commentary

Public education plays an important role in protecting the environment and our health. Canadians have embraced product stewardship wholeheartedly.
Managing plastic shopping bags really isn’t about the bag or the material but how people use them and dispose of them at the end of their useful life as a bag. It is all about consumer behaviour.

It all comes down to the responsible use of products and how Canadians use and dispose of their packaging at the end of its useful life. Through public education, much of it done in-store by responsible retailers, Canadians have enthusiastically embraced product stewardship and the 3R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle.

Plastic shopping bags are highly reused (77.7% in Quebec; 91% in Manitoba). And the bags are recycled all across Canada and used to manufacture high value products like outdoor patio furniture and plastic lumber for decks.

Canadians want choice and the opportunity to practice product stewardship. A 2015 CROP Survey conducted in Montreal found that 71% of Montrealer’s wanted choice and the opportunity to practice the 3R’s. A similar 2012 survey of Torontonians found that 32% wanted choice and % wanted to practice the 3R’s.
Over the years, the industry has worked hard developing a number of tools to remind and inform users of bags like printing on the bags to reuse and recycle, instore signage, proper bagging campaigns, advertising, how to information on municipal websites, community promotions.

Anti-Littering Education Needs Work

And to a large degree public education has worked. But the one area that still needs work is littering. Plastic bags are highly visible. And even though plastic bags are only a tiny fraction of litter at less than 0.5% to 1%, there is a perception that plastic bags are a serious litter problem.
That is why Take Pride Winnipeg with some industry assistance developed a Grade 3 Education Tool for use in schools. It is used throughout Manitoba and in some schools in Ontario.

Timmy the Tumblebag – Grade 3 Anti-Littering Reading Program

What is it?

      • It is an In-school anti-littering education program for Grade 3 students.
      • Grade 3 Reader is read in an assembly to Junior Grades.
      • Local Politicians attend assembly and shows children how to recycle bag in bag method
      • Q&A session follows. Children challenged to describe how many things could be made using recycled plastic bags like slides, swings, rope, toys, notebook covers, etc.
      • School is provided with two hard copies of the reader for their library.

Option:

      • Schools have option to run a collection drive on bags with the children collecting as many plastic bags as possible over a month. Number of bags counted and at end of campaign sent to a local recycler or retailer who will arrange for recycling.
      • Can be done in competition with other area schools. Schools can work with the plastics industry and the plastic lumber industry.

How to Recycle Plastic Bags

Most plastic bags are made from high-density polyethylene (#2 plastic), but the thinner-material bags (such as produce bags) are made from low-density polyethylene (#4 plastic). The recycling collection system is widely available, mostly through collection bins at grocery stores.

Plastic Bag Recycling Preparation

      • Remove anything inside the bags, such as receipts, stickers, or crumbs. All these items will contaminate your bag load.
      • Keep a bag collection bin in your house, such as a kitchen catcher that will be able to hold anywhere from 50 to 100 plastic shopping bags because they compact easily.
      • Make sure any bags you are recycling have a #2 or #4 plastic symbol on them. If not, you’ll want to reuse it instead, before eventually throwing it away.
      • Place them in your blue box, take them to a depot near you, or to an area retailer who has a take-back-to-retail program.

Reuse – Single Use Myth

Catalogue of Resources/Studies for Reference

+ Reuse rates

  • Ontario Bag Task Group Report
    The Ontario Ministry of the Environment reported a 59.1% reuse rate, based on data collected to track the 50% Bag Reduction Program in the province.

+ Consumer Research on Reuse

  • 2015 Crop Poll: Plastic Bags and Reusable Bags: Attitudes and Habits of Montreal Consumers
  • Plastic bags are not a litter problem
    Plastic shopping bags are NOT a litter problem in North America. Study after study shows that they are a tiny fraction of litter in the range of 0.4%.

+ Reusable Bag Reuse – Bags not Cleaned Often Enough – Pose a Health Risk

+ Reusable Bag Reuse – Bags not Use Enough to be Better for the Environment

Commentary

One of the biggest myths in any discussion about plastic shopping bags is that they are single- use bags; used only once and then tossed. But that is a fiction. Plastic shopping bags enjoy enormous reuse – 77% in Quebec and 91% in Manitoba.

The truth is that they are multi-use, multi-purpose bags that are reused a lot by Canadians. True, they are not reused as much as reusable bags, but then reusable bags are not reused anywhere near the 100+ times they are designed for. The average usage according to the Berland study is 15 times; well short of the 100 to 125 reuses required to justify the number of resources used in their manufacture.

Further reusable bags and the plastic used to make the bags is not recycled. This reusable bag plastic is not “reused”, not recycled and the plastic used to make these bags is truly wasted; thrown out as garbage at the end of their life as a carry bag.

Conventional plastic shopping bags, handed out in Canadian grocery stores, are multi-purpose, multi-use bags. Plastic shopping bags are very versatile and reused for a variety of secondary purposes like storage, shopping, lunch bags, pet waste and organics collection, to name a few of the most popular uses.

Beyond its role as a first-use bag to transport groceries in a hygienic environment, the bag serves an important secondary role in the waste management process for household waste, and in some municipalities, to recycle organic waste.

Reuse rates for plastic shopping bags are very high. In Quebec, 77% of plastic shopping bags are reused; primary reuse is to manage household waste. In Manitoba, plastic shopping bags have a long life with 91% being reused.

50% Reduction Strategies

Catalogue of Resources and Programs to Review

 

+ Voluntary Provincial Government 50% Reduction Strategies

Extremely successful product stewardship bag reduction programs. The Ontario 50% Reduction Program achieved a province-wide reduction in per-capita consumption of 68%. The Quebec 50% Reduction Program achieved 52% reduction two years ahead of schedule.

+ Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM)

+ Changing consumer behaviour takes time

+ Bag Fees are effective

+ The Grocery Bag Controversy

Commentary

Canadians are deeply committed to product stewardship (the 3 R’s) and responsible use of bags which has made bag bans unnecessary.

From a public policy perspective, the most effective way to reduce bags without causing harm to the environment or waste management systems has been collaborative, voluntary, non- legislated approaches with private and public sector involvement sector involvement.

Public education on the 3Rs and product stewardship are by far the most effective bag management strategies. They lead to permanent behaviour change, bag reductions and lower carbon emissions.

Provincial Government Voluntary 50% Reduction Strategies have been highly successful in significantly reducing the number of bags used by Canadians – by -68% in Ontario and -52% in Quebec over very short periods of time.

The Province of Manitoba has been so successful that it has achieved a 91% reuse of plastic shopping bags. Its success has been the result of the longevity of the program, ongoing public education, but interestingly, there are no bag fees.

These programs have not only eliminated unnecessary bag use but have resulted in driving reuse rates – not only the adoption of reusable bags, but reuse rates for plastic shopping bags from a low of 60% reuse (Ontario) and 77% in Quebec to a high of 91% in Manitoba according to their respective governments.

Key to success has been government monitoring of the programs as part of the implementation team and retailers and grocers have played a critical public education role at checkout when consumers are a captive audience and have to listen. Retailer checkout programs like bag fees, do-you-need-a-bag, in-store bag recycling, better bagging practices, and the sale of reusables have been highly effective. Each year, retailers divert significant numbers of bags from municipal waste streams across the country through in-store recycling programs. Some even offer bag-to-bag recycling.

The Canadian plastics industry is also deeply committed to product stewardship; working hard to develop new recycling technologies, pioneering unique bag-to-bag recycling programs, and promoting the development of a national network of plastic bag and film recyclers. The bags are recycled and remanufactured locally into new products like new bags, plastic lumber, water pipes, outdoor furniture.

Provincial Voluntary 50% Reduction Programs Successful because Consumers Bought-In

Life Cycle Analyses

Catalogue of Resources and Studies to Review

 

Summary of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA’s)

The science is clear. Every study of carry bags on the market comes to the same conclusion. Plastic shopping bags are the best environmental option. They are better than paper, better than cotton, better than reusables because reusables are not reused enough and users do not keep them clean.

Plastic shopping bags are reusable, recyclable, and the most hygienic bag on the market. On top of that, they have the lowest carbon footprint of any bag.

Government scientific studies called Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) prove that plastic shopping bags have a much lower carbon footprint and the lowest global warming potential of any carry bag on the market.

The three most recent have been done by the United Kingdom, the Government of Denmark, and the Government of Quebec (Canada), and they all reached the same conclusion that plastic shopping bags have the lowest environmental impact.

These LCAs also importantly found that plastic shopping bags are not single use, but multi-purpose, multi-use bags with very high reuse rates. In the Quebec study, the reuse of “single-use” plastic shopping bags was 77% according to their LCA.

+ Quebec Government LCA

 

+ Denmark Government LCA Ministry of Environment and Food

  • Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags
    The Government of Denmark LCA of grocery carrier bags found that thin plastic shopping bags have the lowest environmental impact of all bags in their marketplace and that reusable bags have to be reused multiple times to provide the same environmental performance of the average conventional LDPE carry bag reused as a waste bin bag before incineration.

 

+ U.K. Government LCA Environment Agency

+ Clemson University

  • Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Bags in Common Use in the United States – Kimmel
    Clemson University announced that it would examine the environmental impacts of grocery bag materials including plastic, paper, reusable nonwoven fabric and reusable plastic. The purpose was to publish a factual, scientific-based analysis of grocery bag manufacture, use and disposal, resulting from a new environmental impact study (life-cycle analysis) of the types of grocery bags most commonly used in the U.S. and based on U.S. data and assumptions.This LCA confirmed the findings of the government LCA’s.

    The results show that reusable LDPE and NWPP bags will have lower average impacts on the environment compared to PRBs (plastic retail bags) if the reusable bags are reused for a sufficient number of grocery shopping trips. The majority of reusable bag users DO NOT use their LDPE or NWPP bags a “sufficient” number of times.This study unlike the other studies considers public health. It provides a window on consumer bag maintenance; bag cleanliness to avoid the growth of viral and bacterial contamination and its transfer from the contaminated bags to food carried in the bag, to the home and the person. The Edelman Berland survey reports that only 15% of consumers wash their NWPP bags frequently and 23% never wash them.

    The main contribution of the Clemson LCA is the work presented on consumer behaviour; how consumers actually use reusable bags in practical, real-world scenarios.

    Consumer Use
    Their work on reuse and consumer usage patterns was particularly interesting. The key findings of a National survey, conducted from February 28—March 7, 2014 found: (PRB =paper retail bag).

    • 28% of 3,568 individuals surveyed had acquired a reusable bag in the past year, leading to a sample size for the detailed survey of 1,002 individuals.
    • 87% of these people had used reusable bags for grocery shopping. The survey had a margin of error of ±3.1%.
    • Consumers forget to bring their reusable bags to the store 40% of the time and opt for a PRB or Paper bag instead.
    • 61% of people prefer NWPP bags, but 41% typically use PRBs
    • About 1/3 of the 1,002 people survey sample acquired an LDPE bag in the past year, but only 6% prefer to use them.
    • 10% of people prefer to use paper bags and about 8% typically use them.

    + Paper versus Plastic LCAs and Studies

     

     

     

     

    Commentary

    A number of government scientific studies were conducted comparing the environmental footprint of plastic shopping bags with the most popular bags on the market. These studies are called Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and they prove that plastic shopping bags offer superior environmental performance. Plastic shopping bags have a much lower carbon footprint and the lowest global warming potential of any other carry bag on the market. The one exception would be reusables if they are reused over 100 times.

    Bottom-line, the LCAs prove using science that plastic shopping bags are the best bag environmentally; better than paper, better than cotton, and better than plastic reusables because they are not used enough by consumers to balance out the resources used to make and transport them. People also rarely clean their reusables making them a potential public health hazard.

    The four most recent Life Cycle Analyses (LCAs) conducted on plastic bags have been done by the United Kingdom, the Government of Denmark, the Government of Quebec (Canada), and Clemson University in South Carolina. Older LCAs were done largely comparing paper with plastic bags. They are referenced above as well.

    The U.K., Danish and Quebec government LCAs all reached the same conclusion that plastic shopping bags have the lowest environmental impact; have the lowest global warming impact. They all found that plastic shopping bags are the best bag environmentally.

    The LCAs show definitively that plastic shopping bags are not single use, but multi-purpose, multi-use bags with very high reuse rates.

    In the Quebec study, the reuse of “single-use” plastic shopping bags was 77%. It also found that all alternatives studied have to be reused multiple times to equal the impact of the plastic shopping bag used just once.

    + Quebec Government LCA: Environmental and Economic Highlights of the Results of the Life Cycle Assessment of Shopping Bags

    The Quebec Government’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) compared the environmental impact of all shopping bags available in Quebec in order to determine which bag has the lowest carbon footprint using North American data.

    The LCA showed definitively that the thin 17-micron HDPE plastic shopping bag is the best bag environmentally and economically. It found that reusable bags have a much greater carbon footprint because of their resource intensity and require multiple reuses to match the environmental impact of the 17-micron thin bag used just once.

    According to the Quebec Government LCA, the Polypropylene (PP) woven and PP non-woven bags need an equivalent number of reuses to equal one use of the thin plastic bag ranging from 16 to 98 reuses for the woven PP reusable and 11 to 59 reuses for the non-woven, depending on the environmental indicator.

    The key finding of the report is that “no alternative to banning plastic bags offers an environmental benefit. …] In this context, banning [thin HDPE bags] would not be advantageous.

    https://www.recyc-quebec.gouv.qc.ca/sites/default/files/documents/acv-sacs-emplettes-rapport-complet.pdf

    + Denmark Government LCA Ministry of Environment and Food: Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags

    The Government of Denmark LCA of grocery carrier bags found that thin plastic shopping bags have the lowest environmental impact of all bags in their marketplace and that reusable bags have to be reused multiple times to provide the same environmental performance of the average conventional LDPE carry bag reused as a waste bin bag before incineration.

    They measured the carbon footprint and global warming impact of each reusable by comparing each reusable bag against the environmental impact of a thin plastic bag used just once; the thin plastic bag was used as the standard.

    This piece of science found that the minimum number of reusable bag reuses to equal the environmental impact of the thin plastic shopping bag was very high.

    The Nonwoven PP Reusable had to be reused 52 times and the Woven PP Reusable had to be reused 45 times to equal the environmental impact of the thin plastic bag used just once. Similarly, Recycled PET Reusable Bags had to be reused 84 times; Polyester PET bags – 35 times, Unbleached paper – 43 times, and Organic Cotton – 2,000 times.

    https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978–87–93614–73–4.pdf

    + U.K. Government LCA Environment Agency

    This LCA, as with the Quebec and Danish LCAs, found that the conventional plastic shopping bag (HDPE) outperformed all alternatives, even reusables, on environmental performance.

    Conventional plastic bags have a much lower global warming potential than all other bags on the market. Heavier, sturdier reusable bags of all materials have a higher global warming potential. For example, the production of cotton with its heavy pesticide and water use has a negative impact on the environmental benefit of cotton bags.

    A cotton reusable bag has to be reused 131 times to be as good environmentally as a plastic shopping bag used just once. Non-woven polypropylene bags would have to be reused 11 times to match environmentally the conventional thin bag used just once. Paper bags would have to be reused three times to lower their global warming potential to match that of a conventional HDPE plastic shopping bag being used just once.

    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachm ent_data/file/291023/scho0711buan–e–e.pdf

Bans Don’t Work

Catalogue of Resources

 

Do Bans Work?

  • Municipal solid waste and greenhouse gases
    Many believe that all bags should biodegrade in landfill when in fact modern landfills are engineered to prevent degradation – to avoid the creation of greenhouse gases like methane which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Twenty percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by fugitive emissions from landfills.
  • 2012 Toronto Litter Audit
    In Toronto, Canada, the 2012 Litter Audit found only plastic shopping bags only 0.8% of litter. A ban will have absolutely no impact.

+ Studies

Commentary

For years, environmentalists have portrayed plastic shopping bags as an environmental evil that needs to be eliminated. They have pedalled a lot of bad information to support the banning of these bags – that plastic bags are made from oil; that plastic bags litter the environment; that plastic bags are not recyclable; that plastic bags drive climate change.

None of that is true of course. Plastic bags are made from clean natural gas. Plastic bags are a tiny fraction of litter in the environment- less than 1% of litter. Plastic bags are 100% recyclable here in Canada, but reusable bags are not. Plastic bags have the lowest carbon footprint of all bags on the market. And in the era of COVID, plastic bags protect your health as they help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that can make us sick and even kill. For more information check out allaboutbags.ca, allaboutreusablebags.ca, and plasticbagsandyourhealth.ca.

Do bag bans help the environment; stop climate change? The answer is no. They will have the complete opposite effect because the alternatives are not better. The science shows that every alternative generates more greenhouse gases; leads to more material going to landfill; does not stop littering; and puts the health of Canadians at risk.

Every scientific Life Cycle Assessment conducted by governments shows that plastic shopping bags are the best bag environmentally with the lowest carbon footprint.

Will banning the bags provide any societal benefits? Will help stop climate change? Will it reduce the reliance on landfills?

Plastic shopping bags are a perfect candidate to help build a circular economy in which all materials are reused and recycled to infinity because they are 100% recyclable and are already recycled in Canada.

A ban on plastic shopping bags will have the complete opposite impact of what is intended. It will accelerate climate change by leading to substitutes that emit more carbon and greenhouse gases. It will increase the amount of material going to landfill and it puts the health of Canadians at risk because people just do not clean their reusable bags.

Reusable bags usually made from polypropylene are not recyclable and so will end up as garbage in landfill and paper bags mean that we cut down oxygen-producing trees. On top of that paper bags are on average 7 times thicker which means more material in the waste stream, 7 times more trucks on the road to collect it, producing 7 times more greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmentalists have it wrong. The problem is not the bag but how people use them.

Contrary to the environmental dogma, plastic shopping bags are not single use, but have extremely high reuse rates according to government studies conducted in Canada; 77% in Quebec and 91% in Manitoba.

What are the consequences of a ban on plastic shopping bags?

Impact on jobs and the economy: Canada has a strong and very green plastic bag manufacturing sector across Canada employing 25,000 Canadians in high paying jobs.

Impact on public health: The public health benefits of plastic bags are serious. Each year, according to Health Canada, 11,000 Canadians fall victim to foodborne illnesses caused by e-Coli and salmonella for instance. The coronavirus is just one of many viruses that can be carried on the bags into grocery stores and spread.

Impact on the environment: Scientific studies show repeatedly that plastic shopping bags have the smallest carbon footprint and result in the substitution of alternatives more harmful to the environment. Their use will mean more greenhouse gas emissions, more material going to landfill and the loss of a number of plastic film recycling companies. And in the case of cotton, the use of more pesticides.

Impact on daily life: Bans ignore how and why people use plastic shopping bags and their necessity for many aspects of daily living. Plastic shopping bags are multi-purpose, multi-use bags. They ignore the high reuse of the bag; for example, to manage household waste or to recycle organics particularly in multi-residential dwellings. In Quebec, reuse is 77%; in Ontario, 59% and in Manitoba, 91%. The City of Toronto uses the plastic shopping bag to encourage householder participation in their organics program. Plastic bags help remove the “yuk” factor in organics recycling.

Conclusion: This is why total bans on bags are rare. Even the State of California has allowed a thicker plastic bag as part of their state-wide bag ban regime on thin plastic shopping bags. This thicker bag can be recycled and reused 125 times.
The science shows that the substitution of alternatives to plastic bags will actually accelerate climate change. For more information on different of bans and their effectiveness go to All About Bags – Bans Don’t Work.

Paper vs Plastic Bags

Catalogue of Resources and Studies to Review

 

+ Government of the United Kingdom Life Cycle Analysis (LCA):

+ Government of Quebec Life Cycle Assessment (LCA):

 

+ Denmark Government LCA Ministry of Environment and Food

  • The Government of Denmark LCA of grocery carrier bags found that thin plastic shopping bags have the lowest environmental impact of all bags in their marketplace and that reusable bags have to be reused multiple times to provide the same environmental performance of the average conventional LDPE carry bag reused as a waste bin bag before incineration. Page 16.
    Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags

Commentary

When choosing between paper and plastic, don’t let green guilt necessarily pull you toward paper. Yes, paper bags are made from a renewable resource, can biodegrade, and are recyclable. But paper bags mean that we have to cut down trees, lots and lots of trees which are carbon sinks. People forget that trees are the lungs of the planet. They suck up carbon and produce life-giving oxygen. We do not need to be cutting down trees for carry bags.

The science proves it. Study after study shows that plastic shopping bags outperform paper bags environmentally – on manufacturing, on reuse, and on solid waste volume and generation. The belief that paper is better than plastic is not based on science or fact. It is based on misconceptions about how plastic bags are made, how landfills work, the incidence of plastic litter, and that non-biodegrading products are bad for the planet.

Paper bags are worse environmentally than plastic because they emit more GHGs. Paper bags emit 4 times more carbon in their manufacture than plastic shopping bags and 7 times more carbon in their transport than plastic bags. Recent Life Cycle Assessments only confirm previous studies.

The scientific study done by the UK government showed that plastic shopping bags have the lowest global warming potential of most bags on the market. A cotton reusable would have to be reused 131 times to match the environmental impact of a plastic shopping bag used just once. A Non-Woven Polypropylene Reusable Bag in common use in Canada has to be reused 11 times.

The 2018 Life Cycle Assessment conducted by the Quebec Government found paper bags to be the least performing bag environmentally with 4 to 28 more impacts than a plastic bag used just once.

The Oil Myth

Catalogue of Resources

 

+ Plastics 101

  • How Plastic is made from Natural Gas
    The ethylene formed in the cracking process is next transported by pipeline to another facility to be converted to usable products, the most common of which is polyethylene. Ethylene is at this point still a gas and needs pressure and a catalyst to turn it into polyethylene, a resin. The process by which polyethylene is made from ethylene is known as polymerization.

Commentary

In Canada, plastic shopping bags are primarily made from a by-product of natural gas production, ethane. They are actually pieces of frozen natural gas. One plastic shopping bag has enough energy to run a car for 30 seconds.

Most plastic shopping bags in Canada are made from polyethylene, which is produced from ethane, a component of natural gas.

Plastic shopping bags are an example of the miracle of modern technology that can capture a waste product of natural gas refining, ethane, and turn it into a solid form. This waste product of natural gas, ethane, has to be extracted to lower the BTU value of the gas in order to meet pipeline and gas utility specifications and so that the natural gas doesn’t burn too hot when used as fuel in our homes or businesses.

The ethane is converted, and its BTU value is “frozen” into a solid form (polyethylene) using a catalytic process to make a plastic shopping bag.

The point is that plastic shopping bags in Canada are not made from oil, but clean-energy natural gas, which good for the environment.

Electronic Briefing Books

“Briefing Books” are one-stop resources covering a full range of topics surrounding plastic bag management in Canadian provinces. These books were prepared as briefing books for the Ministers of Environment in the provinces that requested them.

These briefing books catalogue the entire public policy history of plastic shopping bags in their jurisdiction. Each briefing book deals with a wide range of environmental issues, bag management and policy issues unique to that province. Two briefing books were developed: one for Nova Scotia and one for British Columbia.

Click on the images below to review the Nova Scotia and British Colombia briefing books in their entirety.

+ Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia: A Green Ribbon Approach to Bag Management

+ British Columbia

BC World Leader in Stewardship: A Change Agent in Bag Management