It's a week where temperatures in Alaska are higher than in Miami, where Singapore chokes on record smog levels, where Alberta is devastated by record flooding but B.C. forest firefighters are sent to the Yukon, where it is reported that one in eight species of birds are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and industrial-scale agriculture.
I've got the environment and health on my mind. Hell, it's on my mind almost every day. If such thoughts could be turned into a noise, it might sound like the crumpling of a million plastic bags blowing in the wind.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler is in the throes of decision-making right now. Plastic bags, yea or nay? At the June 18 council meeting they decided to implement a six-month trial whereby usage of plastic bags must decline or they will consider a ban.
Here's the case for doing it ASAP. There's no need to delay or demur.
The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that over 100,000 whales, seals and turtles die each year from ingesting or becoming trapped by plastic bags. The bags cause damage to infrastructure by blocking drains, livestock can die after eating them and, darn it, they are just ugly to see blowing down the road or discarded in the grass.
Cows, camels and bears have been found dead with plastic bags in them.
We don't need them. We can carry our stuff by other means.
I remember visiting family in Ireland in March 2002 just as a 15-cent charge for single-use plastic bags went into effect across the republic (it went up to 22 cents in 2007). We scrambled to remember our cloth bags and the grocery store built a small mountain of cardboard boxes in anticipation of people wanting to load up their purchases in them.
Other than the inconvenience caused to some people who were suddenly forced to remember they were part of an eco-system and a wider society, the result was an estimated ONE BILLION fewer lightweight plastic bags in Irish landfills that year. Ninety per cent of Irish residents were carrying their purchases in reusable bags within a year.
One billion bags not thrown out over the course of one year. That's pretty fantastic for a country with a population of 3.9 million in 2002. The money raised by those bags purchased goes into a special fund to benefit Ireland's environment.
I was sold by this effort, having seen firsthand people pulling together to make something a little complicated happen, confirming for me that if a nation wants to do something together it will, that is one of my definitions of the benefits and responsibility of "nation building."
China, which completely banned plastic bags in 2008, accomplished some remarkable savings, too.
That country's National Development and Reform Commission said a year ago that the four-year impact of the ban saved 4.8 million tonnes of oil (equal to 6.8 million tonnes of standard coal). It also saved 800,000 tonnes of plastic, most of which would have likely ended up in the environment.
This works out to 40 billion bags a year not used, not thrown away.
Other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented a plastic bag reduction strategy:
South Africa (lightweight plastic bags banned 2003, thicker plastic bags taxed), Bangladesh (banned after floods spread them as litter throughout the country), Tanzania (full ban 2006), and Italy (banned plastic bags not made from biodegradable sources in 2011).
Just last week, Los Angeles City Council voted to implement a plastic bag ban in 2014, the largest American city to do this. In the U.S., 85 communities have bans, including San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, San Jose and Portland, Ore. Hawaii does, too.
And what about this country? Oh, Canada.
The tiny community of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, banned plastic bags from their city limits in 2007. Huntingdon, Quebec, followed a year later.
Toronto tried but failed late last year, following lawsuits by industry "that denounced what they called a hastily made decision by city council to ban single use plastic bags." The Canadian Plastic Bag Association, one of the organizations who sued, was delighted.
It's like Canada, one of the countries in the world that has the most going for it in terms of space, natural resources and potential, does the least with it. It's like we don't appreciate who we are and what we've got.
There's a mea maxima culpa, by the way. I admit here that I let the team down. I often forget to bring one of my many cloth bags into the store with me, and I've come away with plastic bags. I'm not proud of myself and I know I need to change. I'm trying.
And I fully support being forced to change because of an imposed policy or law. Join me in asking our lawmakers in the Sea to Sky region, Vancouver, too, to bring this in somehow and soon. We don't need plastic bags.
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