Novel Plastic Bag Recycling Campaign Launches as Grocery Bag Stashes Pile Up During COVID-19

Ingrid Nielsen

Hey folks, we need to have an honest conversation about a difficult subject right now. No, it’s not COVID-19, or homeschooling, or off-leash dogs. It’s plastics, and specifically all of those plastic bags.

Do you have a not-so-secret growing stash of mashed-up plastic bags in a cupboard or under the sink? Do you sigh every time you bring one home? Do you comfort yourself with the thought that at least you aren’t throwing it in the garbage, and that you’ll find a good use for it? And yet, that stash keeps growing. We hear you.

Cutting down or eliminating the use of plastic bags has been challenging since March 2020. Let’s face it, it can be tough to remember to bring reusable bags to the store at the best of times, but we try. Then COVID-19 hit, and it was suddenly considered rude, dangerous and often not allowed in many stores. So, most of us stopped using reusable bags and we guiltily took store plastic bags home. And our stashes kept growing.

Recently, a group of residents in Old Ottawa South calling themselves Enviro Crew Old Ottawa South (ECOS) launched a project to help residents get rid of that stash responsibly. ECOS is actively working to protect the local environment and find ways to reduce single-use plastic and waste in the community.

ECOS has started a community collection for all plastic bags, including grocery bags, produce bags, bread bags, cereal bags, and even resealable bags. Under a program run by Metro Inc., plastic bags are collected at participating Metro stores. In cooperation with McKeen Metro in the Glebe, ECOS-collected bags will be added to McKeen’s in-store collection depot and sent to Helix for recycling, a division of Novolex Inc. Residents can also bring their bags directly to the McKeen Metro.

“But wait, you can’t recycle plastic bags!”, you may be thinking. Actually, you can – it just requires a dedicated recycling stream. According to Novolex, “our recycling centre washes and processes the used bags into pellets. The recycled pellets are then used to manufacture new plastic bags.” The upshot is a reduction in the amount of virgin plastic needed, resulting in less chemicals and processing in the environment, as well as a reduction in plastic bags from the waste stream, including the stash in your house.

Unquestionably, all of us must continue to increase our use of reusable bags and reduce single-use plastics in our lives. However, we also know there is concern out there about reusable bags and COVID-19.

That’s why we asked Ottawa Public Health (OPH) specifically about this issue. OPH has clarified their position on their website which reads: “Reusable grocery bags can be used while shopping and do not increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission if individuals follow recommendations about hand hygiene. Staff should wash or sanitize their hands after handling bags or other products touched by customers. If you choose to use reusable grocery bags, clean your bags frequently to help eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of food-related illnesses. While some locations may only allow the use of single use plastic bags that are provided by the store, OPH has not recommended that single-use bags are necessary.”

You can reach Enviro Crew of Old Ottawa South’s Facebook page or email the group at: envirocrewOOS@gmail.com. Drop-off locations are also available on the Facebook group.

Novel Plastic Bag

[Ingrid Nielsen is an ECOS member and resident of Old Ottawa South. This article first appeared in The OSCAR and is reprinted here with permission.]

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Filed in: Environment, Features, FP, Front Page, News

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