Plastic Bags

Myths: Fact or Fiction

Degrade in Landfill Myth

The Single Use Myth

Recycling

Paper vs. Plastic Bags


Paper vs. Plastic Studies

Reusables Greener?

Types of Bags

Litter: The Facts
Public Health

Canada Update

Bags Around the World

The Oil Myth

Made in Canada
Ireland's Bag Tax

Bags Around The World

Fiction:  There is a trend around the world to ban plastic shopping bags.

Fact:  No. A scan of worldwide activities on plastic bags shows that the dominant trend world wide for a number of years has been to recycling and the use of product stewardship principles (the 3 Rs) to manage bags.

The Facts

A scan of plastic bag activities around the world shows:

  • The long-term trend has been to recycling – in Canada, most European countries, China, South Africa, and in some US states. This includes at store recycling and curbside. South Africa and Belgium for example, have bag fees/taxes that are directed to recycling of the bags.

  • Bans on plastic shopping bags are a relatively new phenomenon most usually seen in India and African countries.

  • Complete bans on plastic bags are rare. And their effectiveness is problematic because in most cases, those effected by the ban employ avoidance strategies to get around the ban. Further, the alternative, paper, generates considerable more waste and greenhouse gases and drives up waste recovery costs. This is why Taiwan rescinded a plastic bag ban in its food service sector in 2006.

  • Another trend is toward the use of different types of plastic. The plastics industry is a technology-driven industry and the emergence of new plastic film technologies such as compostable and biodegradable plastic films has led some countries like Italy and France to mandate the use of these plastic films to make the bags and ban the use of non-biodegradable plastics. This has been done largely to support the local economy and create jobs.

  • It should be noted that in these cases (Italy, France, Mexico City), the bags are still in use at the retail level in the market, but there has been a change mandated at the manufacturing level in how the bag is made. The bags per se are not banned, but the government promotes the change as a ban.

  • The problem with the use of bioplastics is that the two technologies – bioplastics and non-biodegradable plastic film – are not compatible. Bioplastics cannot be recycled and are a contaminant to the recycling stream. This means that their use kills all plastic bag film and recycling..That is why legislators in Mexico City are looking to remove the ban on non-biodegradble plastics and put in place a recycling system for bags.

  • Another trend has been the effort to remove ultra-thin plastic bags from the market and mandate the use of thicker plastic bags. This is an attempt to address visible litter concerns. However, this strategy particularly in industrialized countries is questionable because the bags are such a small part of the litter stream (often less than 1%), that there will be no impact on litter reduction. Further, litter is a people problem, not a material problem.

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