The Environment is Our Responsibility
March 21, 2007

Many of us know the story of the frog that was placed in a pot of warm water on the stove. Slowly heat under the pot was turned up. Because the water was warming slowly, the frog didn’t notice the changing temperature as he acclimatized to the changing environment around him. The story continues to the point where there arise dire consequences for the frog. The point is the threat was unseen and gradually normalized – until it was too late to turn back the clock.

You and I, here in Simcoe North, must take our share of responsibility for global warming and the degradation of our environment. It has occurred on our watch.

In our defense, it’s happened so slowly, one small step at a time - especially over the past 50 years – that like that frog we haven’t paid much notice. We’ve acclimatized.

We have accepted new ‘convenience products’ and developed habit patterns based on a often “disposable” product lifestyle - without noticing the accumulating impact it was having on our environment. In many ways we have become a throw-away society.

I am saying today that, you and I (and every other individual in Simcoe North) must take responsibility for the choices we’ve made and the ease with which we’ve allowed others to impose their choices on us. We need to realize the impact our habits and choices have on the environment – and the damage they cause.

But we know that changing habits is not easy.

By way of an example; just ask new parents if we were to suggest they go back to using cloth diapers.

We know disposable diapers are one of the most insidious ‘convenience products’ clogging our landfill sites – accounting for up to 2.5% of all residential landfill - and it is said they take between 200 and 300 years to decompose. In North America it takes a billion trees to produce disposable diapers each year and in Canada we throw out 1.7 billion of them annually.

This is not sustainable. It is a prime example of how we must work together to reverse the impact our disposable product lifestyle has created.

We have created many of our environmental problems one small - “convenience product” step at a time and you and I are going to have to solve that problem - one small practical step at a time.

It will take determination and effort. We must become aware. We can no longer accept “convenience products” without considering their impacts. But where do we begin?

I’d like to suggest one small practical step that we can take together.

We can begin by making the plastic retail grocery bags obsolete in Simcoe North.

Here is a ‘convenience product’ we all use without being aware of its impact on our environment. Its intrusion into our lives and the environment has been profound and menacing.

The scale of the problem plastic retail grocery bags has created is difficult for most of us to conceptualize. That one bag you take home from the grocery or convenience store does not seem evil or ominous.

Like so many other things you and I do, it is just a convenient habit.

Heck some of us even recycle those bags to other uses. The very aware and concerned among us may even reuse them two or three times before they hit the landfill. These bags are ‘free’ and were designed to be thrown away and that is exactly what we do with them.

The fact is - billions of plastic retail grocery bags are choking our planet.

Introduced just over 25 years ago they are now consumed in staggering numbers. They’re everywhere. They’re strewn along our roadways, thrown into our rivers, lakes and streams and they accumulate in ever increasing numbers under our sinks and in our closets.

And here are some statistics:

It is estimated that up to 1 Trillion plastic retail bags are consumed worldwide every year.

According to the Wall Street Journal the U.S. consumes 100 Billion (billion with a B) bags annually. Canadians use approximately 10 Billion every year. That is about 350 bags for every man, woman and child in the country.

How many did you use this week?

Based on these volumes – the citizens of Simcoe North use about 37,000,000 plastic retail grocery bags each year – and 30 million of them end up in landfill sites where it could take up to 1,000 years for them to decompose.

Retail plastic grocery bags do not bio-degrade, they photo-degrade breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits that have the potential to contaminate our soil and waterways. When animals accidentally ingest them - they die- and hundreds of thousands of them do that every year.

It takes 120 million barrels of non-renewable fuels to produce a year’s supply of these bags worldwide. Of course that adds to harmful air emissions and green house gases.

The production and delivery of one plastic bag produces approximately 1.2 pounds of atmospheric pollution.

To put that number into perspective the 37 million plastic bags used by the residents of Simcoe North creates 67.2 tons of atmospheric pollution annually.

According to the Australian Department of the Environment upward of 3% of plastic retail bags end up as wind-blown litter. In Canada that would represent about 30 million plastic grocery bags blowing in the wind, in our forests and in our communities, each year.

And every year hundreds of thousands of species: sea turtles, birds and other animals die from swallowing plastic bags they have mistaken for food.

The dangers to our children from the environmental problems we face are real. Governments have a role to play. We will regulate, enforce, set limits, standards and invest in new technologies and programs to protect our air, water, land and wildlife.

But ultimately – cleaning up our environment and keeping it that way – needs a shift in attitude – a change in habits – for you and me and all citizens. And we need to do this one practical step at a time.

So let’s begin with this one practical step – a step that I hope will lead to other meaningful changes in habits – by committing to make the retail plastic grocery bag obsolete in Simcoe North.

So what is the alternative to plastic bags? Well, we remember paper bags – some stores even use them still – but paper bags are not a suitable alternative – they’re heavier – they consume just as much energy to produce and transport – and they bulk up our landfills.

No – the answer is reusable, washable, convenient bags or containers we can use to take our retail products home. Some progressive stores already offer these choices to customers and we applaud them. We encourage all retailers to look at this problem – but I’d also like to help this process along.

Starting today - you can drop into either of our constituency offices in Orillia or Midland and pick up a reusable, cloth ‘Blue Bag’, for just a loonie. Get a couple of them. Carry them with you - in your back pack or your car and the next time you stop for groceries or other retail supplies I’m asking that you say, “No thanks,” to plastic retail bags.

But when it comes right down to it – the environment is your problem and it is my problem. Each of us must choose to make a difference in any way we can – indeed in every way we can. You and I can make a difference by becoming aware – by changing our habits. It is our choice. It is our responsibility.