Banning Plastic Bags in a Throwaway Society

A few months ago, Toronto’s City Council voted to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags - I’ve been meaning to write it about it since, but the summer months got the best of me.  With my mea culpa out of the way, this issue is suddenly relevant again, as Council is slated to revisit the issue next week.

The idea of a bag ban really excites me. It was a rash decision, and it’s going to be a pain in the ass.  That’s exactly the point.  I want to see the plastic bag ban go through in this city, because we collectively need the shock.

Here’s a case study: today I bought a new shirt and a belt.  At the register, my new possessions were on their way into a plastic bag before I waived the attendant off.  I didn’t need a bag.  My car was steps away, and I’m more than capable of carrying those two items sans bag.  He seemed surprised, but deferred to my request and handed the items over with a shrug.

But before I ride too far on my high horse, I’ll admit I fall victim to the same thought process on a fairly regular basis. Here is an item.  Items are easier to carry in bag.  Here is a low-cost bag.  Now isn’t that convenient?   In fact, I did it after my soccer game last week, when I stopped to pick up a few groceries on the way home.

But the thing is, I didn’t need a bag today, and I could have done without one last week. I knew I was going shopping after the game, but I didn’t think to plan ahead and bring one of the re-usable cloth bags sitting in a heap by my front door.  And therein lies the problem - I didn’t think about how I was going to get my groceries home, because the plastic bag always has my back when my head doesn’t.

I know this is a pretty minor activity to take issue with in the grand scheme of things, especially when I’ve already acknowledged walking to my gasoline-powered car thinking I’ve done the environment some sort of service.  But I’m looking at this from a broader perspective.

We’re trained from day one to consume, and rarely do we stop to question the logic behind our actions.  In this case, plastic bags are convenient, and so we use them.  It’s a very normal thing to do.  But when we dump resources into creating a plastic bag, shipping it to a store, and then disposing of it after (in most cases) a single use, why aren’t we stopping to think about whether or not that’s an acceptable practice?  Our resources aren’t infinite here.

I’m all for the City’s proposed ban on plastic bags, because I think it’s time I ditched the crutch.  I’m sure I would be frustrated the first few times I forgot to bring a cloth bag with me to the grocery store, but I would eventually figure it out.  I would stop bringing a few plastic bags into my apartment every week, and have far less bags to dispose of every month.  At the very least, in a city of five million people, that would mean a lot less bags going around that we don’t need.  Admittedly, banning plastic bags wouldn’t  make a huge dent in our ecological footprint, but it would be start.  It would force us to question some of the smallest aspects of our lifestyles that we might sometimes take for granted, and I’ll take that as a win.