Green living. Eco-friendly alternatives. Environmentally friendly. These are phrases we have all become accustom to using these days. With one of the government’s main focuses being on green initiatives most see the new implementation of charging 5 cents for plastic bags in grocery and other retail stores as an appropriate step to save the planet. But are plastic grocery bags really that bad?

In a study of the Greater Toronto Area communities, it was shown that plastic shopping bags accounted for less than one percent of the urban litter and with the changes in grocery stores everywhere, they are seeing a 50 to 70 per cent drop in plastic bags used. But with the number of plastic bags in circulation, it seems odd that even before the “green” changes occurred in grocery stores these bags represented only around one per cent of landfill trash. Oh right, that’s because their recyclable. Recyclable? Yep, they are recyclable. Over 44 per cent of our population has access to plastic bag recycling. In many of the bigger cities, you are able to place your plastic bags right into your blue boxes on garbage day and they will be shipped away with your empty pizza boxes, beer cans and peanut butter jars. Smaller communities have local drop-offs, such as in Brantford where they can be taken to the Brant Food Bank. All you must do is make sure to rid the bag of any receipts or other debris littering the bottom, tuck all the bags into one and voila!

In Canada, plastic shopping bags are reused 40 to 50 per cent of the time. In England, this number jumps to over 80 per cent. Also, research has shown that those handy reusable grocery bags everyone is toting around may not be as safe as you think. Studies found that more than 30 per cent of the reusable bags harboured unsafe levels of bacteria while around 40 per cent were found to have yeast and mold. Disposable bags, by comparison, contained no evidence of this.

For all you ‘greener-keeners’ out there who haven’t bought what I’m selling, I have an even better alternative idea for you. They’re called biodegradable bags. They’re made from non-genetically modified organism corn so they are a completely renewable resource. The ink on the bag is soy-based, and they actually compost in as quickly as 45 days depending on the compost conditions. Many grocery chains such as Metro and Zehrs have switched to these bags. So, tell me again why I’m paying 5 cents for my plastic bags when I hit up my local grocery store? My guess is greed. Yep, I said it.

There is no by-law requiring retailers to put all the money made back into the environment. But hey, what’s a nickel here and a dime there really going to accumulate to? Well, a lot actually. Large grocery chains stand to make up to $44 million extra per year from the sale of grocery bags. Now that’s a lot of nickels and dimes. The Metro website states that they give $2 million annually to the Green Apple School Program that encourages students to develop programs that support a healthier environment. Although when I contacted their Brantford store and their customer support line to ask what percentage of the total amount this accounts for, I was unable to get a straight answer.

So you’re probably wondering what’s my point. I believe the government needs a new and innovative approach if they plan to use the public to help with making a change on the environment. A step that will enable us to see the positive effects of our work and make us proud to be a leader in global accountability. One idea that may be controversial yet effective is a mandatory ban on all plastic water bottles, imported and home-grown. In 2003, the United States alone had over 40 million water bottles that went into the trash or were littered a day. Let’s face it: this is a much bigger issue our planet faces and I believe that this would be an issue actually worth fighting for.