Breaking a Bag Habit: the Sequel
Last summer the Environmental Issues Committee (EIC) of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) conducted a campaign to increase public awareness of the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic shopping bags. They were concerned about how in Canada alone, between 9 and 15 billion shopping bags are generated every year. Most of these bags end up in landfills, waterways and fields, and cause great harm to wildlife over the many hundreds of years that it takes for these bags to break down. So EIC and MVFN decided to do something about it at the local level.
Headed by EIC Chairperson Theresa Peluso, MVFN members hosted information booths at various festivals and stores in Mississippi Mills to spread the word about how harmful these plastic bags are. They also asked the merchants in Almonte, Pakenham, and Clayton about their awareness of the issue, their store policy about providing plastic bags and alternatives, and their ideas on how to reduce plastic bag consumption. Next, they got the youngsters involved by organizing a contest in local schools. The contest consisted of designing a poster illustrating the damage caused by plastic bags. The winning posters were then copied and distributed to nearly every store, municipal building and church in Mississippi Mills.
According to the results obtained in a follow-up survey conducted in June and July of this year, there was a significant decline in plastic bag consumption from last year.
For various reasons (small number of stores selling items requiring a bag, change in store personnel in past year), the follow-up survey was limited to data from 10 stores. For these 10 stores, there was a reduction of nearly 103,000 bags, which represents a decrease of about 19 percent over the previous year. (Last year these same 10 stores reported using 539,850 plastic bags; this year, 437,070 bags.)
One merchant, on realizing how much was being spent on plastic bags, decided to sell cloth bags printed with the store’s logo with the provision that customers using the bags for their purchases would receive a discount on their purchases every time they used the bag. A few more stores now wait for the customer to request a plastic bag and promote the re-use of single-use plastic bags.
MVFN attribute the decrease in plastic bag consumption in large part to their Plastic Bag Reduction campaign held last year, including the impact of the student posters which were visible everywhere.
Municipal initiatives such as increasing waste diversion options may have also contributed indirectly to the drop off in plastic bag use.
MVFN and EIC extend many, many thanks (on behalf of the animals and plants that share this planet) to all the students who participated in the poster contest, to the merchants who are trying hard to reduce the use of plastic bags, and to the public who are changing their bag habits to help the natural environment.
What can be done to reduce this number further? Using plant-based biodegradable plastic bags is a good option for situations where plastic bags are the best solution (e.g., for dog feces, litter, baked goods, and bulk food items). Putting up eye-catching signs to remind people to bring their own bags would help. Simply put, ways need to be found to encourage more people to develop the habit of always using alternatives to those throw-away bags.
MVFN’s next objectives are to source low-cost plant-based biodegradable bags, as well as cloth bags that can be printed inexpensively with a store logo, for Mississippi Mills, to continue efforts to increase public awareness of the plastic bag issue and to get support from municipal councillors to reduce plastic bag consumption (perhaps by printing signs for stores to display).
Reducing plastic bag consumption by nearly 19 percent is a huge achievement – but perhaps Mississippi Mills residents can top that!
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Winning student posters to be displayed to fight plastic bag scourge
By Theresa Peluso
On your next outing in Mississippi Mills, check out the artwork on display in libraries, arenas, shops, and other public spaces. You will not only be impressed by the artistic and design talents of the children who created these winning posters in the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Refuse-to-Use Plastic Bag Poster Contest, you’ll also be motivated to find alternatives to those environmentally destructive plastic shopping bags!
“Don’t Litter, Pretend You Were the Critter!” is the message from Libby Hirst of Pakenham Public School, shown with her poster, one of the winning designs in MVFN’s poster contest to raise awareness of the environmental problem with plastic bags. Photo John Fowler
The poster contest, which took place during the month of November, was held to engage local students in showing the harm caused by plastic bags, and suggesting alternatives. Although plastic bags seem harmless, their pervasiveness and longevity make them a serious environmental hazard. These plastic bags end up everywhere, choking and trapping millions of animals on land and in the seas, and blocking drains and sewers during the many hundreds of years they take to break down.
Overall, the poster contest was very successful. Thanks to the enthusiasm of local elementary school teachers and students, nearly 80 amazing posters were received. MVFN would like to thank our judges, Elizabeth Veninga, Catherine Blake and Chandler Swain, all well-known local artists, who were dazzled by the talent of the students and the multitude of ways they conveyed their ideas. After much deliberation, they selected the following winners: in the Grade 1-3 category: Denby Fergusson, Naismith Memorial Public School (First), Tatum Ferguson, Naismith (Second), Myles Thompson, Naismith (Third), Dylan Chartrand, Naismith (Fourth), Jason Alexander, Naismith (Fifth), Anthony McCamon, Pakenham Public School (Honourable Mention), Everett St. Croix, Naismith (Honourable Mention), and in the Grades 4-6 category: Fiona Mehmet, Naismith Memorial Public School (First), Sky JS, Pakenham Public School (Second), Libby Hirst, Pakenham (Third), Ben Hoban, Naismith (Fourth), Kyrah Nicholas, Pakenham (Fifth), Nick Love, Pakenham (Honourable Mention), Brianna Moore, Naismith (Honourable Mention).
An awards ceremony was held at the Almonte Public Library on December 18 to celebrate first-, second- and third-place winners, and award to certificates and, for the first-place winners, cheque and book prizes. We were delighted that all those invited were able to find time during the busy month of December to attend. MVFN would like to thank all those students who participated. Many thanks also to John Fowler, a talented local professional photographer, for donating his time and expertise to providing a visual record of the event, and to Pam Harris, Mississippi Mills’ Chief Librarian, for organizing use of the meeting room and space to display the top posters.
Needless to say, these students are thrilled to know that the posters they laboured so hard to create, will be catching everyone’s attention, reminding us to do the right thing and break that bad bag habit!
October 31, 2013
Help us help the natural environment. Enter MVFN’s Poster Contest!
By Theresa Peluso
Are you an elementary or secondary school student? Are you passionate about nature? Do you relish the opportunity to use your research, art, design, and written communication skills to inspire all of us to help our planet? Then this poster contest is for you. See full contest details here: Refuse-to-Use Poster Contest Details. Also info. and links to help you research the issue: MVFN’s Refuse to Use Poster Contest: links to help you research the issue.
As part of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Plastic Bag reduction campaign, we invite all local elementary and secondary school students, including those who are home-schooled to participate in our Refuse-To-Use Poster Contest designed to reduce the use, locally, of single-use plastic bags. Because they are so lightweight and buoyant and take hundreds of year to break down, plastic bags escape into fields, forests, rivers and oceans, wreaking havoc on millions of animals and their habitats around the world.
MVFN’s Plastic Bag Reduction effort began earlier this year with the goal to raise awareness of the harm caused globally by the release of plastic bags into the natural environment. During this campaign, MVFN volunteers surveyed local businesses about plastic bag use and conducted small-scale surveys of numbers of people using re-useable containers vs. plastic bags for their shopping. MVFN volunteers also hosted a series of information tables at events such as the Almonte and Pakenham Fairs, Celtfest and Herbfest during the summer, where we asked the public to pledge to ‘Refuse-To-Use’ single-use plastic bags. We had 244 local residents and visitors take the pledge.
We now invite local students to design a poster to get the message out to even more people to Refuse-To-Use plastic bags. Here’s your chance at fame and fortune! The poster contest is on now and runs until November 29, 2013. A winner in each of four categories (Grades 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12) will be selected. Each winner will receive a cash prize of $20 and winning posters will be displayed in local public spaces, so your work can inspire others. Winning posters will be those whose words and images seem best suited to inspire everyone to ‘refuse to use’ plastic bags. Your posters may show why plastic bags are harmful to the environment, and/or give advice to help people develop life-long habits to reduce or avoid their use.
Complete contest details for MVFN’s Refuse to Use Poster Contest, as well as links to help you research the issue of the ‘problem with plastic bags, will be posted in November on the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists website at mvfn.ca. For additional information or questions, please contact MVFN’s Environmental Issues Chairperson, Theresa Peluso, at
Refuse-to-Use Poster Contest: Information to help you research the problem with plastic bags
Plastic bags are an accepted part of Canada’s shopping culture, but they shouldn’t be. Each year in Canada we use over 9 billion plastic shopping bags. Below you will find suggested links for further information, including a humorous ‘youtube’ video approach to the problem, links to recent on-going research, as well as a pdf of key 10 things to consider about plastic bags. You may also wish to explore other sources of information, for example what information do recycling and waste management organizations provide about recycling options for various plastics, etc.
1. Here are 10 key things to consider about plastic bags: The Problem with Plastic Bags We thank Greener Footprints and Taronga Zoo for permission to use the photos and some information in this document. On the Greener Footprints website one can also view an inspiring video about the successful campaign to ban plastic bags in Rossland, B.C.
2. If you want a humorous approach to explain a serious problem, watch a 4-minute youtube video ‘The Majestic Plastic Bag: A Mockumentary’ produced by Heal the Bay, as part of a campaign to ban plastic bags in California: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgh9h2ePYw
3. An excellent slide show of the Dangers of Plastic Bags:
4. A link to the Canadian Wildlife Federation re. leather back turtles and plastic bags:
5. A link to recent Canadian research on the effects of plastic pollution on arctic birds the thick-billed murre and the northern fulmar presented by an Ottawa student, in collaboration with Environment Canada, at the International Polar Year conference last year in Montreal:
6. A link to an article about on-going research on ‘microplastics’ in the Great Lakes:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=microplastic-pollution-in-the-great-lakes&page=2 Scientist, Dr. Shari Mason of the State University of New York, Fredonia co-authored the soon to be published “Microplastic Pollution in the Surface Waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes” based on her findings for Lakes Huron, Superior and Erie. Data on Lake Ontario collected last year is still being analyzed. Much of the microplastic pollution likely originate from cosmetics, the authors say, while some may be from other sources such as plastic film. The origin of ocean plastic film is difficult to determine; it could be from plastic bags or other plastic. What is certain, Mason told MVFN is that much of the beach debris she sees is from plastic bags.
by Theresa Peluso
“A habit is something you can do without thinking—which is why most of us have so many of them.” (Frank A. Clark)
Many people have acquired the habit of expecting their purchases to be put in plastic bags, not realizing the harm these bags cause to the environment. In Canada alone, between 9 and 15 billion single-use plastic bags are discarded every single year. Being so light and buoyant, most of these bags escape the clutches of the garbage collector, ending up in fields, forests, rivers, and oceans, and wreaking havoc on millions of animals and their habitat over the many hundreds of years that they take to break down.
This year the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, in support of our natural environment, implemented the Plastic Bag Reduction Project to address this problem.
You probably saw our booth at various summer festivals such as the Almonte and Pakenham fairs, Celtfest, and Herbfest, or at the Pakenham General Store, Patrice’s YIG or the Heritage Court, where our volunteers provided information to visitors about the issue, and invited them to Take the Pledge in support of not using single-use plastic shopping bags. If you’re a store owner you probably answered a short survey about your establishment’s use of plastic bags.
Thanks to the participation of all the people who stopped by our booth, and the store owners who took the time to answer our survey, our group learned a lot about the issue and got some great suggestions about how to solve this problem.
Our visitors told us how countries, like Germany, have simply outlawed plastic bags, and so they’re just not available. Some suggested that stores have a bin with used plastic bags brought in by customers for those who have forgotten their re-usable bin or bag. (This wouldn’t work, for hygiene reasons, in a store selling food.) Others recommended offering alternatives to plastic bags, such as cardboard boxes and cloth bags, and displaying them more prominently. Also, posting reminders to customers in various locations would encourage more of them to break their plastic bag habit and use cloth bags or bins. Offering discounts to people who bring their own bags or bins was another idea.
In an informal two-hour survey conducted by one of our volunteers at the local grocery store, it was observed that about 45% of customers had their purchases packed in re-usable containers or carried them unbagged. At another store in the area that sells baked goods, crafts and novelty items, the results were quite different. About 98% of customers came out with their goods in plastic bags.
A total of 244 people signed our Take the Pledge form, including people from Norway, Peterborough, New York City, Morrisburg, Stratford, Cobden, Sudbury, Windsor, and Grand Bend (Ont.).
Many of the people who passed by our booth saw our banner illustrated with a sea turtle eating a plastic bag (turtles think they’re jellyfish, which they prey on). About one-quarter of the passersby stopped to find out about the issue. A small percentage of these passersby had no idea that plastic bags were a problem for wildlife. Another small percentage had some awareness of the problem, and on hearing how harmful plastic bags were, promised to stop using them. Some people were inspired to renew their efforts to bring their own containers. Most visitors were already avid conservationists, pleased that we were publicizing the issue
Of the 23 stores surveyed in Almonte, Pakenham, and Clayton, 6 wait for the customer to ask for a plastic bag; 14 offer alternatives to plastic bags, including biodegradable bags; 7 have cloth bags for sale; 2 provide cardboard boxes; 8 provide paper bags; 2 invite customers to return plastic bags for re-use by other customers; 4 charge a fee for plastic bags; and one store on Mill Street doesn’t use any plastic bags, not even biodegradable bags. Regarding the 14 stores that answered the question about the number of plastic bags they use in a year, the total was 575,000. That’s a huge number!
Quite a few retailers also provided ideas about ways to reduce the number of plastic bags they provide, many of which were identical to those offered by the visitors to our booth. Some of these were: don’t make plastic bags available to the customer, promote cloth bags more actively, provide a box where customers can put their used plastic bags or drop off cloth bags for re-use by others, erect a flashing neon sign outside the store to remind people to bring a re-usable container, charge more for plastic bags, put up snazzy posters to remind people not to use plastic bags, and make biodegradable bags more easily available. One retailer pointed out that sometimes customers re-use plastic bags for their kitchen waste containers, so the bags do have a second use. Most of the retailers knew about the environmental harm caused by plastic bags, and most had taken action to reduce the number they handed out. Nearly all the retailers that were surveyed were keen to help with the problem of one-use plastic bags, but weren’t sure how to handle the fact that customers keep expecting to have their purchases packed in plastic bags.
A few retailers pointed out that biodegradable bags are more expensive, and because they degrade more quickly, they can’t be stored indefinitely. Several retailers were of the opinion that it’s the customer who dictates the store’s approach, and didn’t want to create a negative impression. As they prepared to answer the survey questions, a couple of retailers were shocked to realize just how much money they spend on plastic bags per year.
So, all you customers out there, for the sake of our planet, break that bag habit, and bring your own re-usable containers. Furthermore, because retailers take their cues from their customers, as we found out from our survey, you also need to speak up and speak out! Tell the managers whose stores you patronize that you support initiatives to reduce the consumption of plastic bags. Let’s work together to make our community an earth-friendly one!