Because you can never have enough bags, but you can certainly have enough G20.
True story: The other day I’m at the pharmacy waiting in line, while the lady in front of me pays for a greeting card. This woman asks the cashier for a bag. The cashier gives the stock-Toronto response, “That’ll be five cents, please.”
(Yeah, you got me. She didn’t actually say “please.” Please isn’t really part of any stock-Toronto vernacular, but that’s another story.)
“But, all I want is a small bag.”
The cashier is used to people pretending they don’t know that all plastic bags cost five cents in the city.
“Doesn’t matter what size, it’s five cents. Do you still want one?”
“No. Guess I’ll just have to be inconvenienced.”
Yes, because carrying a five by seven card without the luxury of a plastic bag is one of the most inconvenient tasks to perform. Right behind suffixing a sentence with the word, please.
(Little known fact, big movie productions hire special greeting-card stunt doubles to tackle those risky maneuvers.)
The bottom line, plastic bags are really bad for the environment and the world’s wildlife. Over a million birds and hundreds of thousands of cows, goats, and marine animals die agonizing deaths every year, choking on plastic bag debris.
Of note, paper bags are also a major issue, due to the higher energy consumption in making them, and clear-cutting old growth forests.
Another problem, most reusable shopping bags that feel like cloth are made from plastic, and are a detriment to the planet. Hemp and cloth are the best alternatives.
Admittedly, my shopping bags are reusable, but most of those are of the plastic variety. For now, I’ll reuse those into oblivion, or maybe I’ll even make a dress out of them. You never know with me.
And from time to time, I will find myself at the store naked of reusable bags (but usually in a dress). Then, I’ll do my best not to buy a bag; however, if I must, will curse myself and the stupid five cents I am forced to spend – still I’ll be sure to recycle it.
Even though I agree that in Toronto, and many places throughout the world, it makes sense to impose a tax upon plastic bags, it irks me that what we pay in this city is not a tax – it’s just taxing.
In 2008, grocery stores lobbied fiercely against an original recommendation by the city, which would have applied a 10-cent-per-bag refund requirement to consumers by all Toronto retailers.
They also complained that the 10-cent refund would drive up their costs – and therefore increase grocery prices.
So, conversely, with the five-cents-per-bag going toward their giant cash registers, how is it that this surplus hasn’t decreased grocery prices?
(Even when I lived in Winnipeg years ago, we were charged for plastic bags at one of the major supermarket chains, and that was without any municipally imposed regulations.)
According to the Toronto bylaw, retailers get to keep the money and decide how they will use it.
Granted, IKEA and its great team of publicists and marketers have pledged to donate all money collected from single-use plastic bags to Tree Canada to help plant trees throughout the country.
Other big grocers, such as Metro, Loblaws, and Sobeys have put some of the money towards environmental initiatives. (Charities indeed yield fantastic tax credits.)
Still, as of six months ago, officials with the Canadian Plastics Industry Association estimated profits from plastic-bag fees to have reached $15 million in Toronto, since June 2009. Further, they charge that retailers are not entirely transparent, clearly taking in most of the proceeds.
Regardless, almost all the major retailers report a 70 per cent reduction in plastic-bag use since the rule came into effect.
At Metro, for instance, shoppers have reduced their use from 5 million bags per week to 1.2 million. This equates to about $60,000 a week, or $3.12 million per year.
So what does this teach us?
1. There is a reduction in single-use plastic bags.
2. There is an increase in reusable - still harmful - plastic bags (that may double as material for funky dresses).
3. There is a spike in big business’ bottom line that they don’t want us to know about.
And what does all this mean?
Next time, we should hold the G20 in a grocery store. Paper, plastic, money, and very little transparency – so many similarities… The Grocery-20.
Because, if anything, the G20 will be one of the greatest unnatural, environmental disasters to hit Toronto.