Single-use plastics -“We need to cover all of Canada with this decision, and that’s why the federal government is moving forward on a science-based approach to establishing which harmful single-use plastics we will be eliminating as of 2021,” those were the words with which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the end of single-use plastics in the country. He was speaking this Monday at the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont St-Hilaire, just outside Montreal, four months before the federal elections scheduled for October, an occasion on which environmental issues are expected to be an essential subject of the campaign. The move announced by Trudeau also signals the will by the federal government to retake the leading role that, as a national government, it should play regarding environmental matters, since already some cities, including Montreal, have been adopting policies designed to curtail the use of plastic bags, for instance.
Should Canada ban Single-use plastics
The announcement was not specific as to what items would be included in this ban, leaving the decision for a later time, after some sort of scientific panel or commission reports on what are the most harmful products that should be banned. In any case, some of the most notorious culprits have already been identified: straws, plates, cutlery, cups, are among the most frequently mentioned. However, one of the most ubiquitous items is the plastic bottle generally used to drink water, although practically all soft-drink companies use them too, especially for their biggest formats. The case of sodas is especially significant since until just a few decades they used to employ glass bottles even for their 1 L size formats. Moreover, bottlers had the equipment to wash and reuse the containers, it was a very sustainable practice and an environment-friendly one since glass once discarded doesn’t pollute and could easily be recycled. A different problem could be for water bottlers since the idea of putting spring water into small bottles started just a few decades ago and was done in plastic from the beginning. However, some of those same companies that mass market the small 500 mL plastic bottles already produce upscale bottled water for restaurants, which means that they also would have the capacity to wash and reuse glass bottles for their massive consumers. It remains to be seen whether the government will take on big soft-drink corporations such as Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola, forcing them to deliver their products in glass bottles as they used to do it until the 1980s. Plastic is cheaper, and these big companies don’t have to deal with the containers once the customer finishes drinking their products, I guess they won’t be too happy if the government decides to include plastic bottles on the list of banned products.
The question of plastic bags should also be addressed, and this time, it is expected, in a more rational way than just banning thin bags and leaving the thick ones still circulating, as some municipalities, including our own, have done. The problem here is to find the right replacement, some stores have provided more durable bags that can be carried with you when shopping, but the question remains for the occasional shoppers who, after finish working decide to take something home: how are they going to carry their groceries? If stores can no longer hand out plastic bags of any thickness, what is going to replace them? The most logical answer would be paper bags, probably they would have to be equipped with some kind of handle and also be reinforced to carry relatively heavy items.
Of course, there will be those who would argue over the tricky question of how big a carbon print, making paper bags would leave, but again, you cannot expect that shoppers go home juggling with their groceries. One thing is to protect the environment, another is to become too pesky with this notion of the impact on nature since there will always be some, we only try to eliminate the most obnoxious and damaging of all. While banning single-use plastic is a good move, getting rid of all types of containers is not. Besides, this banning could be right for paper, since it could also be used –previous treatment– to manufacture straws (if we don’t want to use natural ones, made of the dry stems of some plants), and plates. A revamped paper industry could also create jobs that may replace the ones lost in the plastic industry.