With the federal government of Canada having recently implemented a ban on single-use plastics, we did a little research into what the results of the regulations would be and we are very concerned we will end up making a plastic mountain out of our ever-growing mole hill.

Although doing away with single-use plastics is a great step, the right alternative ought to be allowed and encouraged so we truly create the best possible ban for the Earth and everyone on it.

In the federal government’s own words, referring to the single-use plastics (SUPs) ban, “The proposed Regulations would prevent approximately 1.6 million tonnes of plastics from entering the waste stream over the analytical period, but would also add about 3.2 million tonnes of other materials to the waste stream from the use of substitutes, due to their increased unit weights relative to SUPs”. Huh?!?! Yes, you read that correctly. We have the risk of potentially adding 1.6 million tonnes of waste through the use of the substitutes the government is recommending. So essentially, with the alternatives to plastic being considered acceptable by the federal government and down the chain of command, these alternatives could ADD 1.6 millions tonnes of waste. Here folks, lies our mountain.

“This increase in tonnage of waste would represent additional costs for municipalities and provincial authorities, as they are usually responsible for managing collection, transportation, and landfilling of plastic waste, and would assume most of the associated costs, which would ultimately be passed on to taxpayers.” Impact to infrastructure and costs is one important factor, but isn’t the whole point of the ban to reduce waste? What about the marine life, shorelines, and pollution in various forms? Won’t increasing waste increase the waste hitting our shores and beyond?

This statement points to an important fact that the federal government is already recognizing themselves – choosing the wrong alternative will actually lead to an increase in waste rather than a decrease, and this will ultimately lead to increased costs to taxpayers (that’s us!). Now let’s break this down for just bags alone. According to a news release published by the Government of Canada in December 2021, up to 15 billion plastic bags are used by Canadians every year. Since single-use plastic bags tend to weigh approximately 5g, this translates to about 75,000 metric tonnes of plastic from bags alone. If those 15 billion bags were to be replaced with reusable bags, the most popular alternative being considered at this time, this number would actually increase to 1.2 million metric tonnes of plastic or cloth being added to the waste stream (assuming reusable bags weigh on average, approximately 80g).

Meanwhile, if the government were to choose to endorse certified compostable bags as the preferred alternative to plastic, there would be no additional material added to the waste stream and there is also the potential for massive amounts of organic waste collection. A typical certified compostable shopping bag, after being used to carry home goods from the store, can then be used to collect about 20lbs of organic waste per bag for compost. If 15 billion plastic bags are replaced with certified compostable alternatives and are then used for their second purpose of organic waste collection, this could lead to 136.7 million metric tonnes of organic waste being diverted from landfills. Now stick with us here.

To sum this up, choosing reusable bags to replace single-use plastics will remove approximately 75,000 metric tonnes of plastic from the environment but will add about 1.2 million metric tonnes of woven plastic and cloth back into the waste stream, with no additional diversion of organic waste. This adds up to a net ADDITION of 1,125,000 metric tonnes of waste into the waste stream and the environment. Comparatively, replacing single-use plastic bags with certified compostable bags will remove 75,000 metric tonnes of plastic from the environment with no additional material being added back in the form of an alternative bag (since certified compostable bags weigh about the same as plastic bags), and could lead to the diversion of up to 136.7 million metric tonnes of organic waste away from landfills and the environment to be used as a resource. This adds up to a REMOVAL of 136,775,000 metric tonnes of waste from landfills. We know that’s a whole lot of math, but if you can follow it through, the results are pretty important. We’ve shown our work below if you want to double-check it.

Based on the federal government’s own words, it is clear that switching from single-use plastics to a heavier, bulkier product is counterproductive and will not solve the issue of adding waste to the environment. Not only that, but it will ultimately lead to added costs for taxpayers in the effort to manage the increase in waste. It is therefore imperative that government officials be convinced to endorse the use of certified compostable products as a substitute for single-use plastics in order to truly reduce the amount of waste being added to the waste stream.

Wondering how you can help? You can sign our petition here or contact your local Member of Parliament and let them know that you’d love to see certified compostable bags as the replacement for plastic.

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