It’s in the bag

Smoky River Regional Economic Development

Dan Dibbelt

The Alberta government appears to have made the environment a high priority for their term in power. The implementation of a carbon tax would seem to make that clear. Or does it?

A carbon tax is a form of punishment for anyone using too much energy. Low income Albertans will receive carbon rebates, while higher income Albertans will be paying the majority of the tax. According to the government, the intention of the tax is to encourage Albertans to reduce the amount of energy they use and dedicate the revenue raised from the tax to encourage green sources of energy.

The conundrum with this model is that low income Albertans will be reimbursed more than the new tax dollars they will pay, while high income earners can likely afford the increased taxation. If the government’s true motive is to reduce Alberta’s impact on the environment, there are far more effective and simple solutions that will have an almost immediate impact.

Disposable grocery bags have become common and convenient in our everyday shopping but have proven to be a huge source of pollution. According to research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, somewhere between five hundred billion and one trillion disposable bags are used each year around the world.

Plastic bags, while only used for an average of about 12 minutes, remain in our landfills and oceans for thousands of years.

Plastic bags are created using fossil fuels and require vast amounts of water and energy in order to manufacture and ship. The production of plastic bags requires the use of billions of pounds of fossil fuels as well as billions of gallons of fresh water. The manufacturing process results in billions of pounds of solid waste and millions of tons of CO2 every year.

In fact, plastic bag litter has become such an environmental nuisance and eyesore that Ireland, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, and Bangladesh have either heavily taxed them or banned their use outright. In Alberta, Fort McMurray has even banned plastic retail shopping bags. In Ireland, the 20-cent (US) tax on each plastic bag has seen a reduction in use by 95 per cent. In Ireland, just about everyone carries a reusable bag with them where ever they go.

If the Alberta government wanted to make a huge impact on our environment, though admittedly would not increase government revenues, banning the use of plastic bags in retail outlets, would have that impact.

While taxing the bags may see a reduction in use, it is simply a band aid solution, a solution that blurs the line between imposing another tax on Albertans and trying to make a difference. For a number of years now a number of retailers have started charging for plastic bags or using used cardboard boxes to pack groceries. Many consumers have a carry with them reusable bags.

And even people who give little thought to the environment would quickly adjust to the change.

Banning retail plastic bags will benefit our fresh water supply, reduce carbon emissions from their manufacturing process and clean our waterways and our landscape. Plastic bags are estimated to make up just one percent of the volume in our landfills. More important, however, they take at least 1,000 years to break down, and even then, they don’t biodegrade; rather, they fragment into smaller and smaller pieces, making them more likely to be eaten by marine and land animals.

It seems to be a simple solution and if the Alberta government wants to make a difference on the environment and be a leader in the country, this may be a way to show that its carbon tax isn’t just about raising taxes, they actually care about the environment.

Share this post