Stop being blue about the Bag Ban

June 9th, 2012

I’ve recently made the switch on my alarm clock: from the classic beep-beep-beep to the radio function. My hope was that I could start my day by listening to some wonderful folks at CBC Radio rather than waking up annoyed by a loudly beeping machine. Unfortunately, this strategy hasn’t been successful in getting me out of bed. But on Friday June 8th this was not the case. I woke up to The Current, a CBC Radio show that features hot topics with guests to represent both sides of the issue. The issue of the day? Toronto’s Plastic Bag Ban.  I immediately came to full consciousness as I listened to Matt Welch protest Toronto’s Plastic Bag Ban.

I’ve been on the anti-plastic-bag train for a while now. An alumnus from my undergrad program is Plastic Manners, a lady who swore off plastics for life. I’ve seen photos of dead albatrosses, their stomachs filled with plastic. I was fortunate enough to meet Captain Moore and hear him speak about his discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Since being exposed to the anti-plastic movement, I’ve made significant efforts to minimize my consumption of single-use-plastic. Furthermore, I’ve come to believe that governments should exercise their power to ban plastic bags.

Photo: Chris Jordan

So on The Current, Matt Welch was arguing that it was not the government’s job to eliminate citizens’ right to choose between plastic and non-plastic bags. I have to strongly disagree.  Government intervention is absolutely necessary in order to move towards sustainability. Welch’s view that governments should provide information then leave the decision-making to individual citizens, is a cop-out. It’s making it too easy for governments to play it safe. As my favorite Poli Sci Prof has taught me, information sharing/public education is the safest bet for governments: it does not disrupt the economy as much as a tax or a subsidy would, yet it gives the citizens the perception that the government is trying to change the status quo. But these voluntary-information-campaigns are not very effective in incentivizing environmentally sustainable behaviors. When it comes to climate action, governments should not be able to play the cop-out-card anymore. Giving Average Joe all the information about plastic pollution is not going to get him to refuse plastic bags when caught in the moment between short-term-convenience and long-term-sustainability. I know this because I’ve been in this situation and I’ve bagged my groceries in plastic, lined with guilt.

Goodbye, Bag Monster!

As a Torontonian, all I can say is…. Hey Vancouver, you find yourself behind Toronto again: 13 Stanley Cups and a bag-ban!

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Kyuwon Kim (@kimkyuwon) is a BSc Natural Resources Conservation student. In 2011/12, she was the Assistant Director of Common Energy UBC (@CommonEnergyUBC), the largest and most active student sustainability group on UBC campus. She advocates for meaningful government climate action with UBCC350 (@UBCC350).

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