Response to: Opinion: The plastics ban is bad for people and the environment

Response to: Opinion: The plastics ban is bad for people and the environment

Response to: Opinion: The plastics ban is bad for people and the environment

The Federal ban on six single use plastic items that came into effect at the end of last year has generated some controversy. The Fraser Institute contends that the ban will cost more than it saves and create more garbage than it avoids. There are other ways to interpret the data they’re looking at.

A 2019 Environment Canada study shows that of all the plastics waste generated in Canada, one percent is littered, nine percent is recycled and the remaining 90 percent is landfilled or incinerated. To which, the Fraser Institute and others would say, “so if only one percent of plastic is littered, what’s the problem?” I can see that viewpoint if all you were concerned about is littering, but it’s not.

First, the statistic speaks to the final destination of all plastic waste – not just the six single use items from the ban. We don’t know what percentage of the six items makes it into the environment but they are prominent in clean ups and litter studies.

We also know that the intended life of these six items is very short -- hence the term single-use. Why make such short-term products out of a complex material that is both durable and difficult to recycle? Well, plastics are lightweight and cheap. It’s the lightweight part that the Fraser Institute is referencing when it states that the ban will result in net waste being produced -- the substitutes for the six banned items are heavier than the originals. While I can’t find the specific reference to increased waste in their source document, it is true that most substitute materials will be heavier than plastics. What is not clear is how many of the banned products they are assuming will be actually be replaced.

One of the reasons for tackling single use products is that, in many cases, we can do without them. Take straws. Restaurants serving beverages in a glass don’t need to toss a straw into every one. Most of us can (gasp!) drink straight from the glass. This is reduction, no single use item needed. Similarly, everyone who buys one or two things and refuses a shopping bag (of any kind) is practicing reduction. Eliminating the use of these items where possible is the best solution and needs to be factored into the calculations.

In addition, reusable products and systems eliminate the need for one-for-one substitutions, and produce less waste. Reusable options exist for all the banned products, except maybe the ring carriers. And yes, we can discuss the environmental effects of various reuse options, but if designed and used correctly, they can avoid a lot of waste. 

It’s worth noting that the plastics ban is part of a larger strategy to move to zero plastic waste. The original statistic on one percent plastic being littered also points out that the 91 percent of plastic waste has no second life. That’s the real waste here.