Solid Waste & Recycling


Plastics and paper industry fight over bag tax

The plastics industry and the associaiton that represents paper and paperboard producers are arguing over the polic...

The plastics industry and the associaiton that represents paper and paperboard producers are arguing over the policy issues related to a propsed 25-cent per bag on plastic grocery bags in B.C.

The information is set out in two news releases — the first from the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) and the second from the Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC).

Both news releases are presented in their entirety below (items 1 and 2).

1. Plastic industry to fight B.C.’s proposed bag tax

It may not be on the radar screen of consumers just yet, but watch for the fireworks this fall. That’s when municipal politicians will be voting on a proposed 25-cent tax on each and every plastic shopping bag in B.C.

In response, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) is gearing up to fight the proposal by launching a consumer information ‘myth busting’ campaign and by challenging the tax proponents to a public debate in Vancouver prior to the vote.

The tax is being spearheaded by several Councillors in the province’s lower mainland, including Janice Harris of North Vancouver, Craig Speirs of Maple Ridge and Kamloops’ Arjun Singh. They want the Union of B.C. Municipalities at its meeting in October – to pass a motion calling on the province to levy a 25-cent bag tax. They say they want to emulate what has happened in Ireland where a similar tax on plastic shopping bags was introduced in March 2002.

“They tell a good story. Unfortunately, it is based on inaccurate and biased information,” says Cathy Cirko, CPIA’s Vice President of Environment and Health. “What they’re NOT telling you is that the Irish tax has been a failure, creating problems for consumers, retailers and ironically, the environment.”

In Ireland, consumers have responded to the tax by switching to other types of bags, particularly paper bags and heavier ‘kitchen catcher’ bags, to carry their groceries. True, the number of plastic shopping bags has declined by 90 per cent over the past four years. But at the same time, the sale of heavier plastic bags has gone up 400 per cent and the overall amount of plastic resin used in Ireland has actually increased 10 per cent.

A number of retailers in Ireland have responded by providing paper bags. “Regrettably, this has been a step backwards for the environment,” says Cirko. Studies show that the manufacture of a paper grocery bag is twice as energy intensive as that of a plastic bag, and that paper bags have 80 per cent more impact on the environment in terms of GHG emissions.

Perhaps most disturbing, the bag tax has taken a toll on the most vulnerable members of society. Many seniors and disabled people rely on plastic shopping bags because the product is lightweight, easy to carry, inexpensive and waterproof. These groups, along with the poor, are least able to afford such a tax. Some consumers have been so unwilling or unable to pay the tax that they have resorted to using articles of clothing (shirts, sweaters, coats) to bundle up and carry their groceries home.

The tax has also resulted in a major increase in shoplifting, as it is now more difficult for retailers to identify who has and hasn’t paid for their goods. The tax has led to a significant increase in ‘push outs’ (shoppers filling their carts and baskets and walking straight out without paying) at an estimated cost to retailers of 10 million euros ($14.3 million CDN) annually.

“Ultimately, the retailer must make up for their losses. It is the consumer who ends up paying through higher product prices,” Cirko notes.

Still other retailers in Ireland have responded to the tax by offering reusable cloth bags which has led to growing concerns about public health risks, as these bags must be washed frequently to avoid food contamination. This has prompted retailers to increase the amount of food packaging. Bananas, for example, traditionally sold loose, are now sold on trays and shrink-wrapped. “Where’s the environmental ‘win’ in more packaging?” asks Cirko.

Given what has really happened in Ireland, why would anyone still advocate for a similar bag tax in B.C.? The tax has created problems; it has not ‘solved’ anything.

“The bag tax proponents maintain that eliminating plastic shopping bags will reduce litter and divert waste from landfill. Again, they’re not telling you the real story,” notes Cirko. Plastic shopping bags in Canada account for less than half of one per cent of all litter, and less than one per cent of residential solid waste by weight.

B.C. has the most extensive retail bag take-back programs in Canada, with about 30 per cent of all plastic shopping bags being recovered and recycled. In addition, about 50 per cent are re-used to contain garbage. “Is there more we can do? Absolutely. Manufacturers and retailers are working hard to increase the recovery rate. We want all of the bags back because they are a valuable commodity and can be recycled,” says Cirko.

Contact PR Post:

Robert Stephens at 416-777-0368 or or Dena Fehir at 416-777-0368 or

2. Real issue is litter, says paper industry

The paper industry is upset that its plastic counterpart has resorted to denigrating paper bags in its campaign to avoid a possible 25-cent tax on plastic shopping bags in British Columbia.

“Frankly, this seems to be more of a litter issue than anything else and should be tackled on that basis,” says John Mullinder, executive director of the Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC).

“For a national plastic association to claim that paper grocery bags are ‘a step backward for the environment’ and to quote selectively from so-called life cycle studies is both unfortunate and unhelpful,” says Mullinder.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is intended as an internal monitoring and continuous improvement tool, he says, and is not one to be used inappropriately by competing industries or by governments, mainly because widely varying assumptions and averages make “apples-to-apples” comparisons very difficult.

“For example, paper bags in Canada are made from renewable resources (mostly from wood chips, shavings and sawdust left over from logging operations) whereas plastics are derived from non-renewable fossil fuels (oil and gas).”

The real issue in B.C. and elsewhere, he says, seems to be litter. How do you discourage littering from a package design perspective and how do you encourage consumers not to litter once they have the packaging? The real issues seem to be behaviour and consequences, he says, rather than the environmental merits of paper or plastic.

PPEC represents Canada’s paper packaging industry on environmental issues ( )

Contact: John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC, at 416-626-0350 or

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