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Pollution reduction – One bag at a time

By Carolyn Dawe, Youth Engagement Officer, WWF-Canada

In 2005, I spent a few months on a solo backpacking adventure in East Africa. There are always challenges on a trip like this, but little did I know that plastic bags would be one of the biggest ones I would face.

Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium

As I was crossing the land border from Uganda to Rwanda, I noticed that everyone’s bags were being searched. Obviously, knowing I had nothing illicit or illegal, I felt confident I would quickly pass through the security check-point. When my turn for inspection came up, they started taking everything out of my bag and speaking quite harshly to me. I had trouble grasping what was happening, but finally clued in that they were taking issue with the bags that I had wrapped my toiletries, laundry, shoes, etc. in. It turns out Rwanda does not allow plastic bags into the country and has since implemented a complete plastic bag ban. While I haven’t been back to Rwanda, friends who have say that the country is one of the cleanest and most litter-free in Africa due in large part to this forward thinking policy.

Flash-forward to Canada today where plastic bag reduction has not been a political priority. In Toronto, one of the few Canadian cities where a mandatory plastic bag fee is charged, there is a push to reverse this bylaw.  In 2011, over 75,000 plastic bags were removed from shorelines across the country as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Over 25,000 of these were in Ontario alone. Loblaw, one of the country’s largest grocery retailers, has been at the forefront of the fight against plastic bags in Canada, implementing a $0.05 charge on all bags at stores from coast to coast. Since 2007, they have reduced the number of plastic bags given out at their stores by 3.8 billion and donated proceeds from this charge to environmental programs such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and WWF’s Green CommUnity School Grant Program, which has provided over $500,000 to Canadian schools to implement green projects.

While a complete ban like the one in Rwanda is unlikely to come about, it is great to see people committed to removing these plastics from our environment through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and companies committed to eliminating them at the source.


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