Reuse – The Single-Use Myth

One of the biggest myths in any discussion about plastic shopping bags is that they are single use bags; only used once and then tossed. But that is a fiction. They 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 reusables, but then reusable bags are not reused anywhere near the 100+ times they are designed for.

Conventional plastic shopping bags, handed out in Canadian grocery stores, 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 tote 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 on conventional plastic shopping bags are very high.

The Quebec Life Cycle Analysis found that 77% of the bags are reused. 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. (Ontario Bag Task Group Report)

In the Province of Manitoba, the reuse of plastic shopping bags has reached 91% according to the latest study by MMSM Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba.

Ontario Bag Task Group Report

Combined reuse rates are extremely high with bag management reaching almost zero waste.

In Quebec – 92% of plastic shopping bags are reused and recycled.

Quebec Bag Recycling

Provincial Plastic Carry-Out Bag Analysis

In Ontario, 96% of plastic shopping bags are reused and recycled. (upload file of Ontario Bag Task Report)

Ontario Bag Recycling

Provincial Plastic Carry-Out Bag Analysis

According to surveys conducted by Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM) 91% of plastic shopping bags are reused and the remainder are donated to support local food banks.

Manitoba Bag Recycling

Provincial Plastic Carry-Out Bag Analysis

Plastic Bags Reused to Recycle Organics

At the June 6, 2012 City of Toronto Council Meeting discussing banning plastic shopping bags, waste management staff testified that 44% of the plastic grocery bags are reused for the city’s green bin organics program and 15% are recycled in the city’s blue bin at a facility built to take Toronto’s plastic bags and film in Elmira, Ontario: total alternate reuse of 59%.

Plastic Bags as “First-Use” Bags Declared Essential Public Health Tool to Save Lives

Conventional plastic shopping bags offer multiple benefits to consumers. They are lightweight, water-proof, and can carry up to 2,000 times their weight.

But most important, they are the most hygienic bag on the market because they are “first-use” – never been used before — bags. This is why they were declared an essential public health tool during the COVID-19 pandemic while reusable bags were temporarily banned.

Retailers had no guarantee that reusable bags users entering their stores had actually cleaned their reusable bag. Cleaning removes 99% of all pathogens – viruses, bacteria, mold and fungi.

Plastic Bags Highly Recyclable

Another benefit of conventional plastic shopping bags is that they are highly recyclable. There are a range of recycling programs in Canada from blue box/bin, bag-to-bag programs and take-back-to- retail. As well, there is a national network of recyclers who help to ensure that the bags enjoy a second life.

Recycled Resin Pellets Used in New Products

Analysis of data used to track the success of the Province’s 50% Bag Reduction Program shows an Ontario province-wide recycling rate of 35.7%, based on municipalities that accept plastic bags in their blue bin program.

Ontario has a highly efficient and effective recycling system for plastic shopping bags which are recycled in many blue bin curbside programs similar to the program in the City of Toronto.

Ontario has also seen a German company invest in building a plastic film recycling plant, EFS, in Elmira, Ontario which recycles empty, clean bags that can be reused to manufacture new bags, outdoor furniture, office supplies, plastic lumber and water pipes.

Repurposed bags: The City of Toronto’s 1.5-kilometre-long Western Beaches Boardwalk is made of 32 million recycled plastic bags.

Other Data Supporting High Reuse of the Bags

Consumer Research—The Majority of Canadians Reuse Their Conventional Plastic Bags

2015 CROP Poll

87% of Montrealer’s reuse their plastic shopping bag many times — as a lunch bag (32%), to pick up after their dog (15%), to manage household waste (78%) and for other things (5%). 29% recycle their plastic shopping bag.

Decima Research ON CANADIAN BAG USAGE PATTERNS

Decima Research Studies of bag attitudes and usage patterns of Canadians shows that Canadians have a strong commitment to responsible use.

  • In a 2007 Decima Research Study, 77% of Canadians and 79% of Ontarians stated that they reuse their plastic bags two or more times.
  • In this 2007 study, pet owners demonstrated an even stronger commitment to reuse; 85% of pet owners, nationally, and 86% in Ontario responded “yes” to: “Do you reuse your plastic shopping bags as garbage bags to pick up after your pets?”.
  • And when asked, “If traditional plastic shopping bags handed out at retail stores were no longer available, would you purchase kitchen catchers and other small plastic bags off the shelf for your household garbage and to pick up after your pets?”, 78% nationally responded “yes” and 76% in Ontario, responded “yes”.
  • Decima Televox National Telephone Omnibus, Consumer Opinions on Plastic Bag Use, April 25th, 2007