Eco-warriors neither slumber nor sleep in their pursuit of universal sustainability. Plastic looms large on their enemies list because of its non-biodegradability. Three years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised his government would phase out the production and use of hard-to-recycle plastic items, with the goal of zero plastic waste by 1930.
These measures, Guilbeault declares, “puts Canada among world leaders in fighting plastic pollution and will help to meet the commitments of the Ocean Plastics Charter and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” World leaders in combating plastic pollution, you say? Nonsense. This plan will do nothing of the kind.
In it, Tierney asserts, “Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.” Then he produces a mountain of evidence to prove he’s right. Readers learn that even as far back as 1996, there was no reason to worry about toxic leakage from landfills, always one of my concerns: “Modern landfills must be lined with clay and plastic, equipped with drainage and gas-collection systems, covered daily with soil and monitored regularly for underground leaks.”
But we’ll run out of space for the landfills, won’t we? No. If big cities like New York can have all their food needs shipped from farm country, why shouldn’t they ship their waste to where land is plentiful and cheap? If gathered in one space, New York’s annual garbage output would occupy 15 square city blocks, 20 stories high. That’s a daunting image. But “if Americans keep generating garbage at current rates for 1,000 years, and if all their garbage is put in a landfill 100 yards deep, by the year 3000, this national garbage heap will fill a square piece of land 35 miles on each side.”
For perspective, this garbage would occupy only five percent of the area needed for the national array of solar panels proposed by environmentalists., or one tenth of one percent of the range land now available for all U.S. grazing. Additionally, as with previous landfills, the trash would all be covered by grass, blending into the nation’s 150,000 square miles of parkland
Don’t you feel better already? Tierney says his piece “set a record for hate mail,” and I can well believe it. Now, back to plastic bags.
There’s nothing wrong with plastic “single-use” bags that are in fact used numerous times by most people. They’re gossamer-thin yet hold many pounds of produce. They are cheap to produce and energy-efficient, using little water or other natural resources in their manufacture and easily transported in mass quantities. They take up a miniscule amount of space in landfills, and unlike decomposing cotton and paper bags, do not emit methane or other greenhouse gases. The pittance of carbon extracted from natural gas used in their manufacture can be safely sequestered in modern landfills. Twelve plastic grocery bags can fit in the space occupied by one paper bag. According to Tierney, you would have to re-use a cotton bag 173 times to offset its manufacturing carbon footprint. But typically, totes are only used about 15 times.
By coincidence, but presciently, since Tierney’s article on plastic was published before the pandemic, he writes that if we really want to be more environment-friendly, we should order our groceries online, a practice that many people began of necessity and will continue. A few trips to the supermarket will vitiate a year’s worth of plastic-bag deprivation, considering the energy used by your car, not to mention in washing those bacteria-ridden tote bags.