Solid Waste & Recycling


Bottles and Bags

There were two stories that caught my eye today.
In London, Ontario there is some debate about whether or not to rescind the ban on bottled water at City Hall and municipal facilities.
The other story that caught my eye was a column (Taking on Eco-tyranny) by the National Post’s Lorne Gunther decrying having to pay for plastic bags at his local drugstore.
Plastic always seems to be a lightning rod for environmental heat.
With regard to bottled water it is the City’s contention that the low cost and high quality tap water it distributes to its residents and business is sufficient and it does not need to sell bottled water to compete with its product. Selling bottled water somehow suggests that its water is not the good stuff, to borrow another’s marketing mantra. A subtlety for sure, but with a less subtle message.
Nestle Waters, a key local supplier of bottled water of course sees it differently. It sees it more as a matter of choice and that if someone wants to buy a bottle of water say as opposed to a soft drink or juice that they should be able to do so. They contend that water bottles generate but a small amount of waste, which is largely recycled.
Plastic bags were once so ubiquitous and freely dispensed you really had to wonder what was going on. Bags with two or three items at the grocery store were not uncommon. With some notable exceptions they were generally poorly recycled. The days of cupboards under kitchen sinks clogged with plastic bags is now mostly gone. And was it really that hard?
It really all comes down to how we consume. In the 1990s environmentalists noted that we were a “consumer society”. You would think that 20 years and a plethora of environmental initiatives later that that our society would have changed. In fact the opposite has happened. We live in a society where there are coffee shops on every corner dispensing millions of marginally recyclable cups per day. Sure the choice to use a reusable mug is there but really who does? We measure our society’s success not in what we manufacture but consumer confidence. Are people confident enough to go to the mall to spend money they probably do not have to buy whatever?
Somewhere it does need to stop. Water bottles and plastic bags are pretty feeble icons but they are an easy place to start. People understand what they are and can actually do something about it. It may well be that creating this awareness is greater than the sum of its environmental benefits but I think it helps people realize the impact of their consumption and hopefully spur other changes to use their resources more wisely.
It is however easy to understand if not sympathize with the other side of the argument. It’s is a tough sell for many of us when we are told how to live right down to minutiae of whether or not to use a plastic carry our sack or drink water out of a plastic bottle.
As Gunther puts it”
“So expect the push to ban shopping bags to intensify rather than wane, because environmentalism isn’t as much about saving the planet as it is about environmentalists proving their moral superiority and getting to tell everyone else how to live.”
A bit harsh to be sure, but a not uncommon sentiment. You don’t want to tell people how to live- just advise them of their choices.
The benefit to raising these arguments, however, is not to dictate how we live our lives but rather to help us understand the impacts of our choices.
While unfairly maligned the lowly plastic bottle and plastic bag may yet point to a way beyond our rampant consumerism.

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