Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The four little letters that title this post are pretty much internationally recognized. They mean, of course, "Bring Your Own Booze". Except here in Fort McMurray. Here they mean "Bring Your Own Bag". And it's not a suggestion. It's a command, because single-use bags have been banned in this city by municipal bylaw.

Banning the use of single-use bags has occurred in other places in North America, and in the rest of the world. Ireland, for instance, has been charging a levy on single-use bags since 2002. San Francisco banned single-use bags in 2007. What do we have in common with these places? Nothing, really. What we do have, though, is a pretty enormous case of environmental guilt. You've probably heard of survivor's guilt, that form of guilt one can experience after surviving an event that has killed or maimed others. Environmental guilt is a bit similar, except it can infect an entire city, and it's because one feels guilty about our own actions and not about something that has happened to us. I'm not saying this kind of guilt is wrong or misplaced - but there is no doubt in my mind that it helped to fuel the local single-use bag ban.

I'm actually a huge fan of re-usable bags. When I was a kid Superstore opened up in my prairie city. My parents loved Superstore - the prices, the bulk quantities, the variety. Being frugal people what they didn't love was the charge for plastic bags that Superstore has had as a policy for decades. My mom, being an accomplished seamstress, hit her sewing machine with a vengeance and whipped up several re-usable canvas shopping bags. She was decades ahead of her time, it seems. These bags were virtually indestructible, definitely practical, and used within an inch of their little fabric lives. Those bags lived in the trunk of my dad's car, and in my mind's eye I still see them there. So, a few years ago, way prior to the bylaw banning single-use bags, my husband and I decided we would purchase re-usable grocery bags and stop using plastic or paper grocery store bags. After growing up with re-usable bags it really wasn't a big deal to me, and we grew accustomed to the change quickly.

Since the enactment of the local bylaw, though, it has been embraced pretty slowly, and with a great deal of grumbling. You can always tell who is new to town because at the grocery store they have 52 items at the checkout, no re-usable bags, and an expression of shocked dismay at being told they aren't going to  be given bags, either. You then see them heading to their car, either with brand new re-usable bags with price tags still attached, or trying to juggle said 52 items without dropping the eggs and still get the car doors open. Once people know about the bylaw, though, they seem to be pretty decent about remembering their bags and not hassling the checkout people (who incidentally didn't enact the bylaw and really often aren't much happier about it than their customers).

I am also a fan of the single-use bag ban. The movement to ban them was spearheaded by a local Grade Twelve kid who kind of reminds me of Craig Kielburger (this is the Canadian kid who became an activist at the age of 12 and founded "Free the Children", an organization that combats child labour around the world - he's an impressive kid, trust me). This local kid even looks a bit like Kielburger and sure seems to have the same kind of motivation, which I think is great. He could have been playing on his DS and swigging back 2-litre bottles of Coke (or worse), but instead he was lobbying city council. That's pretty cool if you think about it, no matter what your opinion on the bag ban.

I do admit I have an ever-growing collection of re-usable bags. My favourites are a couple of thin nylon foldable ones called "EnviroSax" that I received as gifts. They are not only durable but come in stylish patterns so look pretty great, too. I carry one in my purse all the time, and it's been a lifesaver more than once. For those who don't agree with the single-use bag ban - well, I do kind of see their point. I know it may be more of a "feeling like you're doing something" case as opposed to being an "actually doing something" to help the environment, and that it may not make any significant difference.  But I also know using re-usable bags never killed anyone. Both my parents lived into their 80's and I assure you neither of them died from re-usable bag-related causes. If there is just a fraction of a chance that it either helps the environment or makes us just think about the environment a bit more then I think it's a good thing. You don't have to agree - but if you live here in the Mac you do, in fact, have to bring your own bag!

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