Environmental effects of plastic bags prompts city to consider a switch
On a nice day, going for a walk with the dog is seemingly innocent, until you realize that the plastic bag used to pick up after the puppy will be sitting in a landfill for centuries.
The city fines owners $250 for not picking up their dog’s waste, so most do the right thing by cleaning up. On the flip side, the environmental cost of using a plastic bag is 1,000 years in the dump.
“I used to just use grocery store bags, but then I found out that they take years to decompose in landfills,” says Alexa Gregg. “So I switched to [biodegradable] bags.”
Gregg, a dog walker in Calgary who owns her own business, Hound Hikers, takes care of 12 to 18 dogs on an average day.
“I use biodegradable bags to pick up after the dogs because I care about our environment and I want to leave our parks clean for others to use,” says Gregg.
In High River, one of the town programs offers biodegradable bag stations set up along walking paths in town.
Cathy Hamel, who often walks her dogs at River Park and Altadore Park, says she would like to see more biodegradable bags offered at dog parks around the city, but realizes costs could be a negative factor on city council making such a decision.
Photo: Holly Hofmann/Calgary Journal
Airdrie’s off-leash park also supplies biodegradable bags at both ends of its park.
In Calgary, people have taken it upon themselves to install bag holders for pet owners. However, the bags offered are not always biodegradable.
“Some of the off-leash areas like Campbell Hill and River Park have bag holders with bio bags, which are supplied by the community members,” Gregg says. “These are the two I frequent the most.”
The City of Calgary has yet to make a step in the direction of biodegradable bag stations for pet owners.
“Biodegradable bags are a good idea, and they are better than plastic bags,” writes Vincent Cobb in an email. “Plastic doesn’t biodegrade.”
Cobb is the founder and president of an online site called Reuseit.com. Founded in 2003, the company educates and encourages the use of alternatives, such as re-usable or biodegradable products.
“All those bags we’re using end up spending thousands of years in landfills, oceans, blowing around as litter and even harming wildlife,” Cobb says.
In Canada, only one per cent of plastic bags get recycled, says Greg Beresford, founder and president of BioBag Canada.
BioBag Canada is a Vancouver-based company that sells 100 per cent compostable and biodegradable bags certified by OK Compost.
OK Compost is a certification mark that guarantees products can be broken down in an industrial or private composting environment.
“Bio bags will be composted between 10 to 45 days in a composting environment,” says Beresford. “In landfills they will eventually biodegrade after one year.”
These bio bags are made from the raw material Mater-Bi. The material contains starch, biodegradable polyester and other natural plasticizers. Natural plasticizers are biodegradable compositions that can degrade well in composting conditions.
Gregg says that interested pet owners can purchase biodegradable doggy bags from stores like Wal-Mart, Superstore, Petland or specialty pet shops.
She says that the bags cost around $5 for a pack of 50, but prices vary.
“One pack would probably last about a month for a person with just one dog being walked once a day,” says Gregg. “A small price to pay for the environment and community.”
According to a CBC News article last January, Ald. John Mar of Ward 8 put forward a motion asking the city to come up with a report that would look at ways in which the city could reduce the number of plastic bags being used. Possible alternatives included charging usage fees, legislating biodegradable bags or bringing in an outright ban.
In the article, Mar says that 31 million plastic bags are recycled in Calgary every year, but that’s estimated to be only four per cent of the total number circulating in the city.
Mar did not respond to a request for an interview.
Council refused to look at the possibility of a ban or tax on bags, and instead decided to focus more on public education concerning the reduction of plastic bags.
Vincent Cobb says he agrees that bag bans are useless because it is more of an emotional response to an economic problem.
“Banning bags is an impractical quick fix solution that doesn’t hit at the heart of the problem: overconsumption of all use-and-toss bags,” Cobb says. “Rather than inconveniencing consumers for the sake of a few snap bag-ban sound bites, we support bag fees as market-based solutions that make consumers pay for the true [or] external costs associated with plastic bags.”
“Plastic bags themselves are not inherently evil,” Cobb says. “It’s their practicality that led to the overconsumption problem we now face.”