From: Reuters
Published May 29, 2008 03:47 PM

Canadian plastic industry lashes out over bag bans

By Ashleigh Patterson

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian plastic industry is lashing out at growing movement to eliminate plastic shopping bags, saying that an outright ban could cause more environmental harm than good.

"I think, generally speaking, there was always a kind of anti-plastic sentiment out there, Serge Lavoie, president and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, said on Wednesday. "We're a high-profile target."

Earlier this week, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario -- the provincially owned chain of 598 stores -- announced it would phase out plastic bags as part of ongoing efforts to become more environmentally friendly, offering paper or reusable fabric bags instead.

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The LCBO joins a growing list of retailers and municipalities across Canada -- as in other countries -- that are looking to cut down on or phase out plastic bags.

But the CPIA contends banning plastic bags will fail to change consumers' behavior and may actually lead to more waste plastic as people switch to alternatives.

After Ireland imposed a tax on plastic shopping bags in 2002, consumers switched to heavy-duty kitchen catchers bought off the shelf. The amount of plastic shopping bags handed out fell by 90 percent, but the net result was a 21 percent increase in plastic used, according to the Packaging and Industrial Films Association.

"Consumers in your municipality will respond the same way to a ban on plastic shopping bags," a recent CPIA report says.

A better alternative is boosting existing recycling programs to recover and reuse plastic bags, Lavoie said.

The market for recycled bags is estimated at C$2 billion ($2 billion) in North America with the material used for products such as decking and garden trays.

Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Canada, said the industry has had decades to develop successful recycling programs but have "dodged that investment."

"I have no confidence, based on the performance in the last decade or two of the plastic's industry, that they really have viable recycling facilities up and running that can accommodate this sort of stuff," Olivastri said on Thursday.

Responding to criticism that the industry is being vilified, Olivastri said producers were "getting the lumps that they deserve for underwhelming performance."

According to Environment Canada, Canadians use some 55 million plastic shopping bags each week.

($1=$0.99 Canadian)

(Reporting by Ashleigh Patterson; editing by Rob Wilson)

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