Bag Lady Redux

Let me tell you about my bags. I have many.

My black knapsack is my go-to bag for any kind of shopping. I bought it for $15 in 2003 in Chinatown during the SARS epidemic, half off because the shop owner was just so delighted that anybody was in his store at all. Nine years later, it’s seen better days – it’s faded, a couple of parts are broken, and I’ve had to reattach the straps a couple of times. I’ve started looking for a replacement because eventually this bag will die, but in the meantime, I use it at least a few times a week for grocery shopping, running books back and forth to the library and pretty much any other situation where I need to carry stuff. It’s stylish and I get many compliments on the ginormous zipper.

Being car-free (I don’t even have a driver’s licence), all of my shopping requires the process of carrying it home, either by foot or TTC, and in addition to the knapsack, I also use a couple of canvas bags. The Hudson’s Bay bag was purchased for $1 in 1991 and has been used at least once a week for the past 21 years. It used to have a mate but the bottom of that one gave out a few years back, so now I use this canvas bag that I got when I ran the food and drink website TasteTO. It’s not as roomy as the Bay bag, but it’s good and sturdy.

Those three bags are the backbone of most of my shopping expeditions, and I almost never use a plastic bag unless I have bought more stuff than will fit in my regular trio. For really big loads, I also have a shopping buggy, but it’s unwieldy and I try to avoid it if I can.

This is the shopping bag I keep in my purse. It’s handy and expands to a decent size, and while it was a bit expensive, it has gotten much use.

For special situations I also have a hemp bag from the farmers’ market at Nathan Phillips Square. The square sides mean it doesn’t have much carrying capacity, and since the inside is coated with plastic, it’s not easily washable, but the flat bottom is perfect for bringing home cartons of eggs or boxes of berries in the summer.

I’ve also got this nifty hot/cold insulated bag. This gets the least amount of use, but it has been very handy on occasion, especially on hot summer days when I’m buying fish or meat. Just pop an ice pack in there and Bob’s yer uncle. It’s also great for picking up take-out as well.

As you can see, I am a die-hard fan of the reusable bag. I have been for decades. I make a point of bringing my own bags on almost every occasion. And yet, I still think the City of Toronto’s ban on plastic bags is completely and utterly stupid.

You heard me.

I’ll leave the legal implications of council’s decision to pass a sweeping ban based on a knee-jerk reaction and a total lack of study to the many legal experts who are undoubtedly drawing up lawsuits as I type. Instead, I really want to consider the practical aspects of this decision.

Because as much as we hate the damned things, there actually are a few situations where a plastic bag is superior to a cloth or paper bag – the issue of dog poop has been brought up over and over again, but there’s also things like bringing home leftovers from a restaurant – won’t we all have fun cleaning up leaking sauce when it seeps through that cloth bag onto our laps? How about occasions where people need to transport stuff like wet clothes? Or those occasion when you need to buy some item of a personal nature (tampons is the first thing that comes to mind) but for whatever reason don’t have a reusable bag or a purse big enough to put the box in?

Look, I totally believe that there should be a charge for plastic bags at grocery stores. And I think that other stores should make an effort to dissuade customers from taking a bag unnecessarily. But I think a ban on plastic bags right across the board is just idiotic, and clearly not well-thought-out, and frankly, makes our city council look like a bit of a laughingstock.

I think we need to look at what products and industries need plastic versus paper (walk the streets on a Saturday or Sunday morning and count the number of broken booze bottles – still in the bag – on the sidewalks because people are dropping the paper LCBO bags their purchases come in), which businesses have unfairly taken advantage of the existing bag fee bylaw (hello, Swiss Chalet, looking at you!)  and create a bylaw that is fair and logical. I also think we need to look at what residents are using in place of plastic bags – especially for things like garbage or the ubiquitous dog poo. Banning free (or paid) bags with purchases doesn’t really reduce the number going to landfill, it just means that people are buying packaged garbage bags or dog poop bags instead of using bags given away for free from stores.

Businesses selling items that could be messy or leaky ( restaurants, fishmongers… fishmongers, people – you wanna carry a mackerel home in a paper bag??) should be exempt, while grocery stores, department stores, dollar stores and pharmacies should be able to offer bags for a nickel with the funds going to environmental organizations.

At the very least, if all we get is paper bags, can we get some with handles? Remember that we made the switch from paper to plastic not because we all hate the environment, but because for many items, plastic was more practical, easier to carry and was generally more sanitary.

Shake your heads, Toronto city council. Stop acting like a bunch of petulant children and sit down and work together to make a bylaw that actually serves the people of the city. Torontonians will embrace the reusable bag – I have, it’s not hard. But decisions made in this manner, without research or any type of logic, only serve to further erode our respect and trust for our politicians. If you can’t work together to figure out something like how to deal with a plastic bag, how can the citizens of Toronto trust you to run the rest of the city?

And as a bonus, the original Bag Lady post from the beginning of the bylaw in 2009, in which a drug store employee tries to sell me a massive “reusable” plastic bag to hold my purchase of a small box of pills and a bottle of water.