Philippines protesters wear a mock shipping container to symbolize 50 containers filled with waste shipped from Canada two years ago, outside the Canadian embassy near Manila, May 7, 2019. (The Canadian Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Time for an update on my most popular column of 2018, based on letters and social media responses. No, it wasn’t about this or that economy-shaking move by our co-premiers, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver.

It was about plastic bags.

My prediction early last year was that Victoria city council’s bold move to ban point-of-sale plastic bags from retail outlets would spread like wildfire across B.C. Pointless virtue-signalling on behalf of “the planet” is to today’s politicians what birthday cake is to a toddler, as we will see in the federal election campaign that is already upon us.

The plastic bag ban is catching on with municipalities, but more slowly than expected. Some may have heeded my argument that prohibiting point-of-sale bags still leaves us with all the other soft plastic packaging that pours out from grocery and other retail stores, containing everything from frozen peas to deck screws.

Councils are embracing the Victoria model, where a minimum price is imposed for paper bags instead of the dreaded plastic. Retail businesses, burdened with high property taxes, love the government-imposed revenue stream that comes from charging 15 cents per paper bag. The fact that paper bag production is much more greenhouse gas-intensive than plastic is overlooked.

My prediction that these bans would weaken existing plastic recycling programs was closer to the mark. Here in Victoria, a popular commercial collection service for soft and foam plastic has just been cancelled, because the price paid no longer covers the cost.

READ MORE: Victoria’s plastic bag ban challenged in court

READ MORE: Bottle Depot ends soft, foam plastic collection

The key reason is that China has stopped accepting shipments of these commodities. Shipping containers full of soft plastic debris are piling up around North America, which can no longer offload its First World consumer problems to Asia.

You may have heard that the Philippines recently threatened war against Canada over a bunch of shipping containers full of recyclables that were contaminated with used adult diapers among other fragrant delights. No word on the greenhouse gas emissions all of this shipping produces.

According to multiple Canadian news reports in recent weeks, Chinese importers were employing their famous cheap labour to pick through the recyclables for valuable items, and burning the rest. “It was a charade,” a senior executive of Edmonton-based waste hauler GFL Environmental Services told The Globe and Mail.

This ‘ship it to Asia’ dodge is one way to explain the conclusions of a German study on plastic contamination in oceans. It found that 90 per cent of it comes from 10 rivers in Asia and Africa, with the Yangtze in China being by far the worst. The rest, and most damaging, is mainly lost or abandoned commercial fishing gear.

Then there was the Danish study that showed a cotton grocery bag has to be used more than 7,000 times to make it more environmentally sound than a plastic bag used once for groceries, once to line a wastebasket and then incinerated.

B.C. recycling programs are also cracking down on glass and other marginal commodities. One of the most efficient things to recycle is newsprint, and the B.C. government managed to make a mess of that by forcing newsprint producers into a broader system so they can subsidize uneconomic materials.

And what have our governments done lately? They jumped on a new feel-good fad against plastic straws.

The best solution to all of this is a functional waste system with recycling, and public education about cleaning and sorting materials. Don’t hold your breath.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Screen shot of a cabin somewhere in the Bulkley Valley from rare 1955 film footage of the area.
VIDEO: More rare film footage of the Bulkley Valley in 1955

Can you help identify the locations and/or people in these videos

Shea Long roosts in the Shoot Out in the Telkwa Range. (SnoRiders, Houston/Shea Long photo)
Telkwa Range snowmobiling permit lottery opens

Application period is Oct. 20 to Nov. 20 for snowmobiliers and skiers to gain access to Starr Basin

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read