Canadian Province Has Removed Millions of Plastic Bags From Its Waste Stream

The province-wide ban, implemented a year ago, is hugely successful.

It has been one year since Prince Edward Island banned single-use plastic bags, and the results are impressi. The Canadian maritime province used to collect between 15 and 16 million plastic bags annually for disposal, but thanks to the ban that took effect on July 1, 2019, those have all disappeared. 

Gerry Moore, CEO of the Island Waste Management Corporation, told CBC, “We would ship probably in the vicinity of a tractor-trailer load of that material probably every two to three weeks. That’s been totally … eliminated.”

Retailers were ordered to offer paper and reusable bags instead, both of which had to be purchased by customers for a pre-set minimum fee; plastic bags could not be made available in stores at all, not even biodegradable or compostable ones. Some cities have swapped out conventional plastic bags for biodegradable ones, citing environmental concerns, but this accomplishes little; despite their name, biodegradable plastics do not break down as effectively as one might hope.

And that’s precisely what has happened. Moore said he expected to see a spike in the number of paper bags being used and discarded, but instead the surcharge acted as a deterrent and helped people to remember to bring their own bags. Businesses were given ample time to use up their supplies of plastic bags and prepare for the change.

When COVID-19 hit and businesses all over North America began retracting their pledges to eliminate single-use plastics, PEI told retailers they could waive the fee for paper bags, as some businesses were concerned about the potential for contamination with reusables. This worked well, keeping everyone safe and happy without creating heaps of plastic waste. 

It’s so great to hear an environmental success story like this one, not to mention the fact that it could, in theory, be replicated by every other town and city around the world. PEI has shown what’s possible when priorities are crystal-clear, rules are laid out well in advance, and the consequences for failure to comply are tough. We could all do this, too!!

Categories: Economic, Environmental

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