Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Refuse-to-Use Poster Contest: Information to help you research the ‘problem’ with plastic bags

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: 

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:

poster pdf:

Written abstract:

6. A link to an article about on-going research on ‘microplastics’ in the Great Lakes: 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.


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Breaking a Bag Habit

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!


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Field naturalists to launch campaign to reduce local use of plastic bags

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Environmental Issues Committee

May 2, 2013

Field naturalists to launch campaign to reduce local use of plastic bags

Canadians use up to 9 billion plastic bags each year and in view of the impact these bags have on the natural environment, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) have developed a campaign to help reduce their use in our local area. Organized by the MVFN’s Environmental Issues Committee, chaired by Blakeney resident Theresa Peluso, the campaign will be launched in our communities in early May and will include distribution of a fact sheet on the issue, a survey of current users and distributors of plastic bags, a poster contest for schools, and the publication of a concluding report on the campaign.

MVFN has ample reason to be concerned. Plastic bags have a very significant impact on the natural environment when they are disposed of. Did you know that if you tied together every plastic bag we use annually in Canada, the chain would circle the globe fifty-five times? Many bags end up in our watershed, plugging drains and sewers and creating an unsightly mess. Worse still however, they cause great harm to wildlife. Birds get tangled up in them, especially water birds; turtles and other mammals ingest them; whales and dolphins confuse them for jelly fish and gobble them up. Some fish think they are frog eggs and eat them. The result is usually suffocation or acute indigestion leading to death.

Masses of plastic bags are strewn all around the countryside. Not necessarily dumped or discarded by people, a large amount of plastic becomes wind-borne from landfill and construction sites. Canadian plastic bags have been found as far away as Scotland. Flotillas of plastic bags are found in the middle of our oceans and ocean currents slowly carry them to other shores. Plastic bags are made from non-renewable petroleum products. Every piece of plastic ever made in our lifetime, still exists! The bags do not decompose; they photodegrade. The sun’s rays eventually break them down into small toxic pieces, but these contaminate soil and water and get into our food chain when animals ingest them.

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ campaign will encourage the use of reusable cloth bags. Another important message will be to avoid purchasing goods packaged in plastic. The campaign will also reach out to local businesses to encourage the use of alternatives to plastic bags. As the campaign unfolds, volunteers will be needed to help with this awareness building. If you would like further information or to get involved with this worthwhile initiative, please contact MVFN’s Environmental Issues Chair, Theresa Peluso at .


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The Great 2010 MVFN Carbon Reduction Challenge!

The Great 2010 MVFN Carbon Reduction Challenge!

– brought to you by MVFN’s Environmental Issues committee-

During World War II, gasoline was rationed. Those who drove, used up their gas ration coupons and had no more gas for that time period. Pretend that gasoline is rationed now!

Who? All MVFN members and family and friends who drive vehicles.

What? A pilot project and challenge to test a simple method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2, a greenhouse gas) we put into the air by driving our vehicles.

When? Get ready now, but the challenge runs for the 26 week period: June 1st to Nov. 30th.

Where? Everywhere you drive.

Why? On average, every adult is responsible for contributing about 20 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year. ·Burning fossil fuels is a significant source of our CO2input. ·Burning a litre of gas adds about 2.2 kg of CO2 to our air.

How? Follow the directions below.

How to participate:

1. Choose a typical ten-week period. Calculate the number of litres of gas you use for those ten weeks; e.g. use credit card receipts. Divide the total by 10 to calculate your average use/week.

2. Set yourself a goal to reduce the average number of litres used per week; e.g. 10% or 30%.

3. Make a ration book and record your weekly consumption. Trick: Put the same number of litres in your vehicle each Saturday and try to make that last a whole week.

4. Register your goal with the MVFN Challenge Registrar, Cliff Bennett (contact information below).

Cliff will keep track of the challenge goals and announce the challenge results in early December.

An Example – Cliff Bennett’s personal goal:

Cliff found he was using 30+ litres per week during his ten-week assessment period. He will challenge himself to reduce fuel consumption for his Ford Focus from 30 litres per week to 20 litres per week during the challenge period. That will reduce his CO2 input by 572 kg (260 l X 2.2). If ten MVFN members meet this challenge, the reduction would equal 5,720 kg and, if 100 did it, that would equal 57,200 kg.

Ways to reduce your gasoline consumption:

Drive less. Walk or cycle. Car pool. Keep your vehicle well tuned. Go easy on acceleration.

Buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. Don’t idle. Combine several errands into one trip.

For more information, contact Cliff Bennett, 613-256-5013 or .

Join the challenge, help alleviate climate change, reduce our drain on fossil fuels and save money on gas!

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Town of Mississippi Mills to consider lawn and garden pesticide regulation at next Planning & Economic Development Meeting

The Town of Mississippi Mills is set to consider a by-law to regulate the unecessary (cosmetic) use of lawn and garden pesticides. The issue is on the agenda at the next Planning & Economic Development Committee Meeting, Thursday, March 6, 2008. This meeting will start at 6 pm in Council Chambers at the Municipal Offices at 3131 Old Perth Road, RR2, Almonte, Ontario. The meeting is open to the public.

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Board of Directors supports the municipal regulation of lawn and garden pesticides. The BOD recognizes that such by-laws make no attempt to restrict the use of chemicals for agricultural purposes, but rather are intended to reduce the unnecessary or ‘cosmetic’ use of pesticides on lawns and gardens. Health Canada itself, the federal body governing the registration of pesticides, recommends reduction in the use of pesticides on lawns and gardens and the use of alternative products to safeguard the health of humans, in particular children, who are especially sensitive to adverse effects from pesticides. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and other groups also recognize the benefit to the environment from the elimination of the unnecessary use of pesticides.

Pesticides even when used following directions closely can easily have unintended targets such as to beneficial insects and song birds. They may cause damage to biodiversity, reducing wildflowers and weeds which play an essential role in a healthy ecosystem i.e. as a source of nectar for pollinating insects, for monarch butterflies etc. Aquatic organisms may also be damaged when pesticide products in active form reach water courses and ponds.

If you are interested in hearing Town of Mississippi Mills Council discuss the municipal regulation of cosmetic use pesticides we encourage you to attend this meeting. Those in other jurisdictions who may seek support for such by-laws in the future may also be interested in the nature of discussions at this meeting.

As meetings of council are subject to change, please check for any last minute changes on the town’s website at or by calling the Town of Mississippi Mills at 613-256-2064.

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