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Jen Gerson: The Bags Don't Contain Plastic
You fucking muppets.
Those who follow my work will know that I am an unreformed Calgary evangelist. I like this city for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that I'm a member of the Calgary CO-OP, a chain of local grocery stores. For those who are lucky enough to enjoy something like this, a co-op offers particular advantages over their conventional counterparts; we get a small share of the profits that the chain earns every year, for example. The stores stock local produce, meats, grain, and processed foods from Calgary-based suppliers, and from nearby farms. CO-OP also provides a number of top-notch house brand supplies. National chains are simply not as nimble, nor as local. They can't be.
But I admit that one of the things I enjoy most about CO-OP is its green grocery bags. When stores across Canada began to phase out the use of single-use plastic bags, I was despondent. The environmental rationale for the ban was thin, but mostly I was annoyed because I'm chronically disorganized and can never remember to bring reusable bags.
So when CO-OP replaced plastic bags with a fully compostable alternative, I was delighted. Granted, we would have to pay a small fee to purchase these bags, but the per-unit cost was actually less than what we would normally spend on a box of Glad compost-bin liners. So it all evened out.
To make matters even better, unlike paper straws, the compostable bags are superior to their plastic alternatives. CO-OP advertises this point on their site: "They are stronger than a plastic checkout bag. You can carry a medium-size turkey or three bottles of wine with no problem."
I can also attest to this. The bags are an absolute win for everybody involved.
So when I discovered on Thursday that Ottawa plans to ban these items, considering them a "single-use plastic," I lost my goddamn mind.
Not only will this represent a small inconvenience for me and my family, but it is also one of the laziest, most idiotic decisions issued from this remote, non-responsive federal government I have yet to encounter.
The bags do not contain plastic.
Let me say that again, because apparently the sound of western voices doesn't quite travel all the way to the the slower bureaucrats in the back: "THE BAGS DO NOT CONTAIN PLASTIC." You fucking muppets.
In fact, CO-OP's bags are manufactured locally by a company called Leaf Environmental Products — the sort of company that a country not staffed by dimwits would be lauding across the globe if it were located east of Thunder Bay.
“I started this company about seven years ago because I really, really hate single-use plastics and loathe their existence,” said Jerry Gao, who was quoted earlier this year in the Calgary Herald. “I think they’re some of the worst things we’ve created out of convenience. So the mission statement of the company has always been to get rid of single-use plastics.”
Gao's bags are made with a fully biodegradable polymer and polylactic acid, which is a "plastic substitute made from fermented corn starch." Even the ink used in the product is vegetable-based.
The bags decompose within 10-45 days in a composting facility. And there's no particular evidence that they would last very long in a landfill or on the side of a road, either.
Gao noted that the bags don't even have a long shelf life.
“We have really good storage conditions in Calgary because it’s dry and cool. But even that, within a year, the bags will start coming apart."
But none of that matters to this flailing federal government, which has labelled the bags an "unconventional plastic" even though they, again, CONTAIN NO PLASTIC.
Now, there are greenwashed “biodegradable” products out there that actually do not fully decompose on a reasonable timeline, but the CO-OP bags do not appear to be guilty of that crime. These bags are “certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) to testing standard ASTM D6400.”
This distinction does not appear to be understood by the ministry charged with overseeing these things, however. In the above-noted Herald story, a spokesman with Environment and Climate Change Canada said:
“These bio-based plastics are currently problematic to manage at their end of life, which is why they are captured under the prohibition ... Compostable plastics are currently screened out by most organics recycling facilities and sent to landfill, due to longer biodegradation times than food and yard waste; they contaminate recycling streams; and they have not proven to perform better than conventional plastics when littered on land or in water.”
Oh God, is this mic on?
Cool, cool. Because at this point, I think it's worth noting that the green CO-OP bags are not, in fact, screened out by organic recycling facilities. Calgary's municipal compost system tested the bags. The city’s own website gives the bags the A-OK for use in municipal composting facilities. The bags were designed, intentionally, to be used as compost-bin liners after they served their initial purpose of schlepping groceries.
In other words, these are local companies partnering with local governments to find locally appropriate solutions. Most of the grocery bags sold by a Calgary grocery store to Calgary consumers is going to wind up in Calgary’s waste management facilities. I mean, anybody look at a map lately? You see any oceans around? We aren’t really concerned about Calgary’s grocery bags joining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, even if they would degrade once they got there.
The plastics ban, which will take effect at the end of the year, doesn’t even ban the bags outright. Because, of course, they’re just compost bags. But as of Dec. 20, we’ll have to buy the bags in bundles, discard the unnecessary packaging they will come in, and then put our groceries in them. So we’re still allowed to purchase the bags, use them to pack our groceries, and then carry our food out of the store, but CO-OP will have set the product up to make the process of bagging our groceries marginally less convenient and considerably more wasteful. Because fuck us in particular, I guess? This is a compromise that somehow manages to make the whole prohibition look even more rage-inducing and inane.
Ottawa is taking a win-win-win solution for the problem of single-use plastics waste and just shitting all over it. And why? Because good people should be made, and eager, to suffer and be inconvenienced for the benefit of the environment? Because some unknown bureaucrat has a spiritual horror of anything that vaguely resembles a plastic bag? Do we need to call a priest? Should we smudge the produce aisle with sage? Can we get someone from the Tsuut'ina Nation out to offer the green bags a special benediction?
I mean, let's just sum up here. Some C-student Karen 3,000 kilometres away watched American Beauty once too often in Middle School and imposed a moral taboo on anything emulates the vague shape of a plastic bag. Or, worse, some poor workaday sod in a remote ministry proved too damn lazy to understand the difference between an dodgily marketed bio-plastic and a fully compostable alternative. So now asshole moms like me are now going to spend more money on bags to line our compost bins with a product made of essentially the same, or worse, material and sold by The Clorox Company based in Oakland, California.
So well done, everybody. Just genius, responsive policy all around. What would we do without all those fine mandarins staffing the top-notch ministry of Environment and Canada Change Canada? Melt, I guess.
Look, Ottawa, are you there? Are any of you listening, or am I just screaming into the void? For the sake of the entire country, I hope, I pray that there is somebody with an IQ above 92 capable of not just reading this desperate missive, but of really, truly understanding it.
This shit — this, right here.
This is why we hate you.
This is why we fucking hate you.
Nobody outside the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle sees a headline like "New Initiative from Ottawa!" and thinks: "Oh, how exciting. I'm so keen to see what grand notion those crafty MPs in Ottawa have cooked up now! Come, Maude, let us settle ourselves before the The National at Six so we can understand how our fine federal government is working to make our lives better."
Nobody does that. Because every time I see some fine new supercluster-aspirational buzzword-laden legislative boondoggle coming from our federal government I know that my life is going to get worse in some minor, petty, and yet measurable way.
So here's a thought: just a brianwave I'm riding as the sun sets on the prairie.
Maybe it's time to just stop for a single goddamn minute.
COVID was a lot. We're all a little crazy right now. Parliament is ending for the session. The government is in a slow spiral of terminal decline.
Maybe it's time to stop having ideas for a little while. Give us all a year or two to get all re-equilibrated before you throw around more virtuous visions that wildly exceed your collective capacities. Just quit it. Quiet now. Shhh.
Go be really good at food inspection. Get the payroll system fixed. Sort out some military procurement issues. Buy some planes. Collect the taxes. Distribute the wealth. Balance the budgets. Just go about your jurisdictionally appropriate business like an ordinarily competent federal government that is not burdened by an over-abundance of vision.
Please. I beg you. Stop before someone — not me, probably, but someone — burns down a federal building over a $.10 grocery bag.
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