Last summer the Environmental Issues Committee (EIC) of Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) conducted a campaign to increase public awareness of the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic shopping bags. They were concerned about how in Canada alone, between 9 and 15 billion shopping bags are generated every year. Most of these bags end up in landfills, waterways and fields, and cause great harm to wildlife over the many hundreds of years that it takes for these bags to break down. So EIC and MVFN decided to do something about it at the local level.
Headed by EIC Chairperson Theresa Peluso, MVFN members hosted information booths at various festivals and stores in Mississippi Mills to spread the word about how harmful these plastic bags are. They also asked the merchants in Almonte, Pakenham, and Clayton about their awareness of the issue, their store policy about providing plastic bags and alternatives, and their ideas on how to reduce plastic bag consumption. Next, they got the youngsters involved by organizing a contest in local schools. The contest consisted of deigning a poster illustrating the damage caused by plastic bags. The winning posters were then copied and distributed to nearly every store, municipal building and church in Mississippi Mills.
According to the results obtained in a follow-up survey conducted in June and July of this year, there was a significant decline in plastic bag consumption from last year.
For various reasons (small number of stores selling items requiring a bag, change in store personnel in past year), the follow-up survey was limited to data from 10 stores. For these 10 stores, there was a reduction of nearly 103,000 bags, which represents a decrease of about 19 percent over the previous year. (Last year these same 10 stores reported using 539,850 plastic bags; this year, 437,070 bags.)
One merchant, on realizing how much was being spent on plastic bags, decided to sell cloth bags printed with the store’s logo with the provision that customers using the bags for their purchases would receive a discount on their purchases every time they used the bag. A few more stores now wait for the customer to request a plastic bag and promote the re-use of single-use plastic bags.
MVFN attribute the decrease in plastic bag consumption in large part to their Plastic Bag Reduction campaign held last year, including the impact of the student posters which were visible everywhere.
Municipal initiatives such as increasing waste diversion options may have also contributed indirectly to the drop off in plastic bag use.
MVFN and EIC extend many, many thanks (on behalf of the animals and plants that share this planet) to all the students who participated in the poster contest, to the merchants who are trying hard to reduce the use of plastic bags, and to the public who are changing their bag habits to help the natural environment.
What can be done to reduce this number further? Using plant-based biodegradable plastic bags is a good option for situations where plastic bags are the best solution (e.g., for dog feces, litter, baked goods, and bulk food items). Putting up eye-catching signs to remind people to bring their own bags would help. Simply put, ways need to be found to encourage more people to develop the habit of always using alternatives to those throw-away bags.
MVFN’s next objectives are to source low-cost plant-based biodegradable bags, as well as cloth bags that can be printed inexpensively with a store logo, for Mississippi Mills, to continue efforts to increase public awareness of the plastic bag issue and to get support from municipal councillors to reduce plastic bag consumption (perhaps by printing signs for stores to display).
Reducing plastic bag consumption by nearly 19 percent is a huge achievement – but perhaps Mississippi Mills residents can top that!