Sustainable Living

4 Reasons Not to Celebrate Single Use Plastic Bans

It’s encouraging to see many places in the world, including Canada, adopting single use plastic bans. Plastic is a huge problem for the planet since it doesn’t break down and disappear. According to the BBC, over 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year and 40% of that is single use plastic. Clearly something needs to be done and banning single use plastics is great, but there are a few reasons I hesitate to celebrate the single use plastic bans that have been put in place.

4 Things to Consider About Single Use Plastic Bans

I’m in no way against single use plastic bans. I think it is a great idea to ban single use plastics that are destroying our environment and ending up in our oceans. I’m all for it! And am encouraged to see so many countries taking steps to tackle the problem of plastic.

In Canada, up to 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used every year and approximately 16 million straws are used daily. Single-use plastics like these make up most of the plastic litter found on shorelines across Canada. 

Government of Canada – News Release

That being said, I do think there are some things to consider, and perhaps tweak, about the bans. There is the potential for single use plastic bans to cause harm when we hope that they will do good.

Homeless man impacted by single use plastic ban
Photo Credit: Pixabay

1. Consider the Cost to Homeless Individuals and Other Persons Living in Poverty

I’ve worked at homeless shelters for the past four years, so these individuals are very dear to my heart. When the Vancouver single use plastic ban included a fee for certain items, such as disposable cups and paper bags, I immediately thought of the impact it would have on those living in poverty.

“The difference is only a quarter, but it’s an enormous difference because it’s the difference between getting a coffee and not getting a coffee,” he said…The ban on plastic bags is no good either, he said, as bags are essential for keeping belongings and bodies dry when living outdoors.

Global News

Reusable items are great and could be provided by non-profits, but the ability to store belongings in a safe and clean place is limited for unhoused communities. There are also sanitary considerations as many people won’t have access to places to wash reusable items.

Disposable, single use items will likely continue to be the most practical option for this community, so having an added cost charged to those with very little seems unjust.

Vancouver was so unprepared when their single use plastic ban and disposable cup fee went into effect that people were being charged $0.25 on a free cup of coffee. Thankfully, this has now been changed, but it goes to show how certain demographics were not considered when implementing the bans.

Earth Overshoot Day by Year
Infographic via Earth Overshoot Day

2. Consider How our Overconsumption will Still Drive Single Use Product Production

As a society, we’re living beyond our means. Earth Overshoot Day inches earlier and earlier every year. This is the day the earth runs out of resources that it generates in a year and we begin using up more than the earth can sustain.

For 2022, Earth Overshoot day is July 28th. That means for the remaining 156 days of 2022 we are using resources that the earth can’t regenerate.

We are used to being consumers. We are constantly encouraged to get out into the world and spend money and buy things. Our busy lives necessitate convenience. And single use products go hand in hand with consumers needing convenience.

This is solely me being opinionated, but going cold turkey on single use items does not seem practical. There’s a bigger mindset shift that needs to happen for a single use plastic ban to have its necessary effect. Plastic is certainly a problem, but the way we live our lives (both individually and on the greater scale) needs to be considered as we move to eliminate single use items from our lives.

Garbage can overflowing with single use plastic
Photo Credit: Pixabay

3. Consider the Waste Still Produced by Single Use Plastic Alternatives

It is fantastic to see innovative options being created for single use packaging. The problem remains that it is all still actually garbage. While cities have banned plastics and allowed alternatives, there seems to be little consideration about the disposal of these items.

Take out containers, packaging, and utensils all proudly bear the markers of being biodegradable and compostable, but they still end up in the trash.

A quick search of our city’s Waste Wizard, which lets you know where to place certain waste items, shows that biodegradable and compostable items all go in the trash. Cutlery, bags, and containers are not suitable for the city’s green waste program–even if they are “compostable.” Even items that feel like plastic can’t be recycled and are destined for the waste bin.

The disposal of single use plastic alternatives needs to be considered when implementing single use plastic bans. Substituting one form of waste for another is not going to solve our climate crisis.

Corporate Greed and Single Use Plastic Bans
Photo Credit: Pixabay

4. Consider How Companies and Corporations will Exploit the Bans for Profit Over Solutions

While I understand the use of a fee as a deterrent for people to choose single use products, there seems to be little consideration for what will be done with the fees charged by companies. Under the local Vancouver city bylaw, businesses are “highly encouraged” to invest the money gained from charging single use fees on sustainable programs, but there is no obligation and the companies are allowed to keep the money earned.

“$1.25 or $1.50 on a transaction for drive-thru or takeout for a family of four might not seem like a lot of money per transaction,” she said, “but when these multinational companies are doing thousands of transactions a day and [there’s] no option for people to bring their own reusable cups or bags — yeah, it’s a huge windfall actually for some of these much larger chains.”

Global News – Vancouver Revisits Single Use Cup Fee

Businesses are driven by profit, so I can understand the temptation to monopolize on a mandatory fee. But again, this is not actually solving our problems of waste, overconsumption, and the damage we are doing to our planet.

There needs to be consideration for how effective fees are and what that money can be directed towards–other than profit.

Single use cups and take out in garbage
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Single Use Plastic Bans

This perspective may feel fairly doom and gloom, but it’s born out of a desire (and almost desperation) for these plastic bans to work. I’ve been thinking a lot about the forward inching Earth Overshoot Day and the state of our planet. I actually am hopeful that, as a collective, society can change, but change doesn’t happen simply because we set in place an overarching ban.

Change happens when our beliefs and convictions are put in to action. Sure, people are going to begrudgingly follow a bylaw, but we need more than this. And if we’re going to be putting these laws into place, there needs to be consideration for those these laws will impact.

How do you feel about the single use plastic bans? Do you have one in your area?

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    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      That’s definitely true. And one good thing is that laws/bylaws being put in place do help expose areas that need further work and change–like having a way to properly dispose of compostable packaging.

  • Julian

    This is a good point! I hadn’t considered the effects on the low income population. Thanks for all your insight.

  • readandreviewit1

    This was such an interesting read! I think there are so many things to consider about single use plastic bans, it’s not as clear cut as it might initially appear. Considering the impact it can have on those who are already struggling and in poverty is such an important point! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this.

  • Vanessa

    To be totally honest, when I heard of these bans I thought it was something that would look on paper for politicians, but it wouldn’t effectively solve the problem of mindless consumption of plastic – and all that it entails. I’m right there with you, I’m not against the ban, but the big picture wasn’t considered in depth. I love that you cover the topic here with a great dose of critical thinking. Your arguments and thoughtful opinion help us look at this with a wider perspective. I thought Portugal had completely banned plastic disposables.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      It’s reassuring that I’m not the only one having those thoughts about these bans. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts to the conversation!

      I just did a quick search to check on Portugal and one article says they’re banning all kinds of plastic and another says they are in the process of phasing things out. It looks like they’re on that track either way.

  • sarah0711

    Thanks for the insight and conversation on this. It’s a very complicated issue that relies a lot on businesses making the right decisions but we can do our bit too with the choices of what we buy.

    But for lower income families the choice isn’t always that easy.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks Sarah!
      I agree that personal accountability plays a huge part and it’s even more important if we’re able to make those choices to do so as many people are not in that position to be able to.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!