Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of Plastic Bags and Things

As described in this article, Rwanda is one of several places in the world that has banned plastic bags. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda is a beautiful and clean African city (I was highly impressed when I visited last year). This is due in part to the plastic bag ban. Rwanda is not alone; apparently 25% of the world either restricts or bans the bags. And people still manage to carry things!

Since it was implemented two years ago, Toronto's 5 cent bag fee has significantly reduced the use of disposable petroleum-based bags. When it first came into effect, there was a chorus of whining hyperbole from those who thought they somehow had a right to free garbage bags or who thought they were being subjected to Soviet-style repression, etc. etc. But most Torontonians got on with their lives, getting into the habit of bringing reusable bags with them.

As Wayne Roberts points out, the city's bag "tax" is just the beginning of what is truly required. Charging a "nominal payment for the convenience offered by plastic throwaways" was enough to start a conversation, to gently encourage people to use less plastic. I used to get funny looks when I said "I don't need a bag"; now I am always asked if I need one. I would say it has been a successful first step: relatively painless, and relatively effective.

Now our illustrious gravy-destroying mayor plans to go to the trouble of actually getting rid of the bag fee (a "Nightmare" according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business). Toronto might never be as clean and beautiful as Kigali.