Oh yes, there is a price for everything, including “free” plastic

Oh yes, there is a price for everything, including “free” plastic

This didn’t make too many waves when it came out, but apparently the Ontario government wants to make producers responsible for Blue Box programs.

Yes, I fell off my chair, too. The Ontario government — the one led by Doug Ford — is doing something good for the environment? Hell’s bells.

But yay, you know. Well done.

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said Thursday the transition will happen in phases starting in 2023 and be completed two years later.

Recycling rates in the province have been stalled for 15 years and as much as 30 per cent of materials currently put in Blue Boxes are sent to landfills, he said.

The program will encourage industry to change how it packages products to cut down on waste and would harmonize the 240 existing Blue Box programs, which each have their own lists of accepted materials.

“It’s clear the Blue Box program has become unsustainable,” Yurek said. “It costs municipalities and taxpayers millions of dollars a year and those costs are expected to increase by approximately $10 million a year after 2019.”

A government discussion paper released earlier this year said shifting the responsibility for the Blue Box recycling program to producers would save municipalities more than $125 million annually.

It’s interesting to read the comments on that piece, from people going straight to complaining about having to pay more for their products. Because — and on this point the commenters are essentially right — whenever governments force a cost onto corporations, the costs get passed down to the consumer. It’s funny that very few people mention the savings to municipal coffers, mind you, but never mind that for the moment.

What if… yes, what if the prospect of having to make consumers mad by raising prices prompted corporations to review how they package their products? What if, for instance, the makers of simple disposable manual toothbrushes realized they don’t actually have to encase each one of them in a hard plastic shell? Couldn’t there be a different form of packaging that wouldn’t be so hard to get rid of? And that would also be easier to open? (Ever cut yourself on these things trying to pry your ^%^#& toothbrush out of its plastic sarcophagus?) Couldn’t there be some kind of packaging that’s just as hygienic, easier to dispose of in an environmentally sound manner, and not really more expensive? I don’t know. But it’s worth investigating.

Or take Costco. We all love to hate Costco. It’s great for bargains, but the crowds, sheesh. And my goodness, do you ever buy loads of plastic along with your bags of noodles and crates of water bottles. Everything you buy there is bundled because you get better deals when you buy three of everything. So each package is wrapped, then the bundle itself is wrapped to make sure you have enough ketchup to survive the next ice age. And that’s nothing: If you look up, to the top shelves, you’ll see pallets full of bundles, triple wrapped in yet more plastic. It’s nothing but giant cubes of cellophane up there. I get that having everything tightly encased like that makes it easier to store and move products around the warehouse, which contributes to Costco’s ability to sell us stuff cheaper. But at what cost to the environment? They even sell bananas in plastic bags. Bananas. The fruit famously wrapped at birth.

Do this experiment for me next time you do your shopping at Costco. When you get home, unwrap everything down to individual packages. Make a pile of the wrapping material you now need to dispose of. Does this seem like a good deal to you? Wouldn’t you feel better if you didn’t have this mound of plastic to get rid of?

True, if suddenly Costco was made responsible for the disposal of all this packaging, it might affect the price we pay for noodles at the cash. Unless, of course Costco turned around and insisted its suppliers start sending their products wrapped differently. Costco is a big buyer. I’ll bet you when it asks its suppliers something, they do their best to comply because otherwise, some other noodle company is going to take advantage of this situation and get its ravioli on those shelves.

Retail Council of Canada CEO Diane Brisebois said retailers are embracing the change because it has become a global trend.

Increasing consumer complaints about the amount of packaging and how to dispose of it also played a role, she added.

“They are hearing customers saying they want to use less, why is there this much packaging? Why can’t I recycle this?” she said.

And here I wanted to put in a little plug for Farm Boy. In response to customer demands they have increased their offering of loose produce. You can buy kale in packages, or not. Loose carrots or bagged carrots. You have a lot more variety than you used to, if what you’re looking for is fruits and veggies without plastic. That’s just good business. Try to satisfy your customers by listening to what they say they want. It’s so simple it almost hurts.

Maybe you enjoy shopping without having to think about any of this. That’s fine. But the plastic packaging still costs something to someone, even if it’s recyclable, and right now the customers who purchase it pass along the cost of disposal onto someone else, which isn’t especially nice. Making that cost more visible to those who use the products is a big step in the right direction.

Update, August 22: Tesco says it won’t stock products with excessive packaging.

Weekly reading and watching list, August 22, 2019

Weekly reading and watching list, August 22, 2019

Pets for health

Pets for health

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