Viewpoint – Thrifty Foods’ view on plastic bags

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I must respond to a recent “food for thought . . .” advertisement that has appeared in the Driftwood showing a letter written by Sandy Wittrin of Mesachie Lake to the Cowichan Valley Citizen.

This person voiced a number of concerns related to Thrifty Foods discontinuing plastic grocery bags, and seemed to suggest that another grocery retailer who used plastic bags stamped “100% DEGRADABLE” had somehow found the perfect solution to all of our plastic bag problems. Their bags are stamped with a phrase that says: “When disposed of in a landfill, this bag will degrade in the presence of oxygen, heat and stress.”

This, unfortunately, is not always the case.

Thrifty Foods moved to biodegradable bags in 2007, but we soon found out they do not provide a viable long-term solution. Besides being ineligible for recycling, biodegradable bags will only degrade under specific conditions of heat and light — conditions that aren’t always guaranteed in a landfill. In reality, biodegradable bags can take a very long time to degrade, but in the meantime they still impact our environment, contribute to litter and hurt wildlife.

And while plastic grocery bags may also serve as garbage bags or pet scoopers, they still pile up under the sink faster than they can be used to bag waste. Last year, over nine billion plastic bags were handed out by retail outlets across Canada.

The fact is that only two or three per cent of those ever get recycled. The rest are piling up in landfills, finding their way into the food chain, killing wildlife and causing severe damage to our eco-system.

At the same time, while we feel strongly about the number of plastic bags being distributed — and while we are determined to do our part to cut down on that number — we don’t want to cause any undue inconvenience or difficulty for our customers as we aim for this goal.

That is why we have continued to offer paper bags with handles and cardboard totes. We don’t see them as a long-term solution because they do have a big carbon footprint. But we’re hoping they will provide a temporary step until shoppers get used to using reusable bags.

And that is why we have tried very hard to make various forms of reusable bags available at moderate prices throughout our stores (my personal favourite is the 3”x3” pouch that unfurls to a full-size grocery bag. Admittedly it costs a couple of dollars but it offers serious portability, durability and is easily cleaned).

The truly encouraging thing about this move away from plastic is the astonishing variety and creativity in the types of reusable bags coming into the marketplace.

As to the writer’s comment that nobody has “mentioned if plastic grocery bags are to be eliminated or what to do with the large black plastic bags we all use to put our garbage bags into our garbage cans for pickup” . . . the fact is Thrifty Foods realizes it can’t eliminate plastic entirely. But we do feel strongly that discontinuing plastic grocery bags will at least get rid of the 27 million plastic bags a year we were responsible for distributing (of which, incidentally, approximately 800,000 were distributed here on Salt Spring).

And that, we think, is the right thing to do and that it is, in fact, a step in the right direction

Thank you for giving me a chance to reply.

The writer is the manager of Thrifty Foods’ Salt Spring store.

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