The plastic bag monster: It’s time for a big debate
The Bag Monster has raised its ugly head; it has emerged from under the sink and been seen around the Island, and reactions have been interesting.
Greenrock launched a petition on Earth Day, April 22, to ask Government to mandate a 25c charge for single-use plastic and paper bags.
The ultimate goal is to cut down on the number of bags we use. Most people agree that single-use bags (particularly plastic bags) are a problem, but disagree on the solution. Twenty five cents is quite a bit of money, but it is not out of line with other jurisdictions, and it is not intended to be an ongoing expense; you always have the option not to pay but bring your own bag.
The launch of the petition has generated a lot of discussion. This is a good thing. Questions such as what is the cost to us personally, what is the cost to the environment, and what is the real cost to the economy, are now being widely talked about.
There are quite a number of comments on the Greenrock Facebook page along the lines of: “I reuse my bags, and if we start to charge then that will result in a whole lot of ‘virgin’ bags being used for bin liners.”
Of course we support reusing bags (and we believe that charging for them will make people more inclined to reuse them), but Lindo’s alone brings in approximately 200,000 bags a month, so certainly not everyone is reusing their bags.
Greenrock has been focusing (and continues to focus) on educating residents, businesses and schoolchildren on the actual cost of our waste, and encouraging them to bring their own bags.
In 200⅞ Greenrock worked with Lindo’s to bring in the first reusable ‘green bags’, funded by a grant from the End to End campaign. This succeeded in changing some habits and reusable bags are widely available, but are not yet used by the majority of the population.
Unfortunately replacing plastic with paper, or with biodegradable plastic, is not a good solution — paper bags take a lot of energy and virgin trees to produce and disgorge a lot of pollution during their manufacture. ‘Biodegradable’ plastic bags are not truly marine biodegradable, and in Bermuda we have no commercial composting — so no way to dispose of them safely.
As we discuss solutions let’s talk about the problem we are trying to solve. Plastic and paper bags are bad for:
l The economy: money goes off the island to pay for them — we use them for 15 minutes and then pay to dispose of them.
l You personally: you are already paying for bags whether you use them or not, ‘user pays’ is a better option.
l Grocery stores: who are running on thin margins in tough economic times yet have to supply bags ‘for free’.
l Our health: toxins from plastic end up in the fish, on our plates and in our bodies. Paper production is one of the most serious polluters on the planet.
l The environment: Plastic bags are made with fossil fuel (‘biodegradable’ bags do not degrade in the sea, they just break down into fragments), paper bags use a lot of energy to make, cause a lot of pollution, use virgin trees (recycled paper isn’t strong enough), and we use fossil fuel to ship them to Bermuda.
Charging for them has been proven to reduce use but is an intrusion. Maybe a ban (as some people are suggesting) and not a charge is the best answer. Maybe there is another answer. Let’s keep talking about it and together develop a sustainable solution.