Now that the Toronto city council has banned plastic bags, you may be wondering how on earth people are going to carry things. Well, our partners at LEAF are ahead of the game—they published this great article a month ago, long before the TO ban.

While this article mostly deals with how not to use plastic when you’re shopping, it makes sense to stop using it in your restaurant as well. Offer a discount to patrons bringing their own bags, and only offer paper ones when they’re requested.

Avoiding the plastic bag

By Jeanelle d’Eon

The harmful nature of plastic bags has become an increasing concern, and the widely available reusable bags makes for an easy switch from plastic. But we are a busy society, and reusable bags are often forgotten or misplaced. Knowing the impact that paper and plastic have on the environment can help us stay on track with avoiding the plastic bag, and remembering our reusable ones.

Recycling paper, bottles, and plastics has decreased landfill waste and helped to conserve natural resources. However, blue plastic bags, which recyclables are typically stored and transported in, are often not recycled at waste facilities, but end up in the waste stream. In the environment, plastic bags never fully breakdown, which results in small particles of plastic that pollute the soil and ocean forever. These plastic pieces and particles in our environment harm birds and marine animals, damaging landscapes and ecosystems. The production of billions of plastic bags also uses millions of gallons of petroleum each year.

Can we replace recycling and garbage bags with biodegradable plastic bags? Unfortunately “biodegradable” products do not ensure a lower environmental impact. Controversy over how well these products actually degrade, as well as what harmful substances they leave behind, make them less than ideal. Paper would also seem to be a great alternative to environmentally harmful plastic bags, however paper manufacturing requires more energy (40-70% more) to produce, and requires greater transportation costs. And while paper may breakdown quickly in a compost pile, paper degradation can take up to 15 years to fully breakdown in a landfill.

The frustration remains, as people wonder, “What in the world should I be using?” The answer remains cloudy. When considering energy and natural resource use while manufacturing, plastic seems to be the better option. Plastic also seems to be a better choice when considering energy and resource use in the recycling process. Not only is paper bag manufacturing more energy and water consuming, one pound of plastic bag recycling requires about 90% less energy than recycling one pound of paper. On the other hand, paper does fully break down, while plastic does not. It is also made from renewable resources, and doesn’t cause such environmental damage to wildlife and ecosystems when it ends up in the landfill.

Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. No matter what material you’re using, always reuse it as long as possible, and recycle when it’s no longer able to be used.
  2. Keep a few reusable bags (or boxes) in your car, at home and at work, so you always have one on hand when you need to grab something on the fly.
  3. Check with your local recycling depot to see if they recycle the clear plastic bags used for recyclables.
  4. Always recycle paper, and purchase 100% recycled paper products. Paper may require more energy to produce and recycle, but as mentioned above, it is made from a renewable resources and will degrade with causing harm if it does end up in the landfill.

Do you have a policy regarding plastic bags? If you’re in Toronto, how are you going to deal with the upcoming plastic ban? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Image credit: velkr0