The Canadian plastics industry calls out the Nova Scotia government decision to replace plastic bags with carbon-intensive paper bags as anti-environmental. The science cannot be disputed. It is categorical that paper bags are a bad substitute for plastic bags in the fight against climate change. Paper bags emit four times more carbon dioxide in their production than plastic bags and seven times more carbon in their transport than plastic.
According to the industry, what the province has done is self-defeating. The decision comes with a huge environmental price tag – an additional 6,896,000 additional pounds of carbon dioxide loaded into the environment each year; a seven-fold increase in municipal bag waste; and thousands of pounds of non-recyclable reusable bags pouring into landfills. Kraft paper mills are very polluting to the environment as Nova Scotia well know through Boat Harbour which has become polluted with dioxins, furans, chloride and mercury.
“It is like the province in its pursuit to protect the environment threw out the science and just went with popular opinion,” said Joe Hruska, Vice President of Sustainability for Canadian Plastics Industry Association.
“Every scientific study for the past 20 years has shown that paper bags have a greater global warming potential. The 2017 Quebec government Life Cycle Bag Assessment showed that the paper bag is the least performing bag with four to 28 times greater potential impacts than the conventional plastic bag. Nova Scotia banned the wrong bag!”
Hruska adds that the province should have worked with the industry to put in place an aggressive bag fee program that would have helped the province reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduced the use of plastic bags dramatically. Fees tied to the carbon dioxide emissions of each bag based on scientific research are much better environmental solution than a ban – $0.10 for a thin plastic bag; $0.30 for a paper bag; and $2.50 for reusable bags.
“A bag fee structure based on GHG emissions would have eliminated the carbon threat to the province and shown real environmental leadership”, Hruska added.
“The government if it really wants to reach its 50% GHG emissions reduction goal by 2030 certainly should not be giving paper bags a pass. Nova Scotia needs real solutions to the very real problems it faces due to carbon loading of the atmosphere.”
Research shows that fishing waters around Nova Scotia have been acidifying and warming at a rate of 0.6C a year for the past 35 years presenting a real threat to the fish and lobster habitat down the road. Carbon dioxide dissolves in surface water to form carbonic acid, which is corrosive to calcium carbonate — the compound in the exoskeletons of lobster and other crustaceans.
“One of the more serious problems the province is facing is what to do about the millions of pounds of unrecyclable reusable bags that are pouring into landfills because they cannot be recycled anywhere,” said Hruska. “Even reusable bags labelled recyclable cannot be recycled so landfill here they come. Why is the province not working with us to solve that problem? We have a solution. We have a 100 percent recyclable, 100 percent locally made reusable bag with 40 percent recycled content ready to go. All they have to do is ask.”
The industry understands that leadership on the issue is tough in face of the pressure the government has been under from environmental activists who have been waging a long war on bags as a symbol of over-consumption. Plastic bags have been accused by environmentalists of poisoning our drinking water with microplastics, clogging our sewers, and polluting our oceans. But science has debunked it all.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in August declared that any microplastics in drinking water not a risk to human health at current levels. The largest omnibus study of plastic bag litter by municipalities across North America looking at over 102,000 litter observations found plastic bags to be only 0.04 percent of litter. And the definitive Jambeck study of ocean plastic found that Canada is responsible for only 0.01 percent of plastic in the ocean.
“We understand what the province is facing in terms of public pressure but this is where real leadership and real solutions are needed to make sure that we are putting the brake on carbon emissions and not pushing the accelerator”, says Hruska.
“At the moment we feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s tea party with its nonsensical rules. We will continue to promote our carbon-reduction agenda and to advocate for science-based decision-making to save the planet. We just hope that our political leaders have the courage and wisdom to do the right thing for our collective wellbeing.”