Edward Keenan’s commentary and concerns about excess plastic bag usage is right on the mark [“Excess baggage,” Spring 2007, page 46]! I totally agree and have, in my own small way, been an advocate of the “no bag” or “cloth bag” approach to shopping for many years.

Like Keenan, I, too, get strange looks or the “Are you sure?” comment when I refuse to take a bag for whatever I’m purchasing. Particularly annoying to me, and the ultimate misuse of plastic bags, is milk – three bags in a bag and then, for sure, it will be carried home in another bag. Honestly! I have written to Neilson Dairy suggesting that the company redesign the outer milk bag to have an opening for a handle, thereby allowing the consumer to carry it as is, but they have not responded to this idea.

Do you have an opinion about plastic bags? Should a tax on bags be levied? Should they be banned from supermarkets and pharmacies? Visit our website and share your thoughts with us: www.ontarionature.org

I feel it is time to penalize those who choose not to use environmentally friendly bags. I recommend that, rather than the pathetic three cents that is charged by some stores to purchase bags, or the pathetic three cents that is refunded to shoppers who bring their own bags, the price tag for store bags go up to one dollar. If you are inconsiderate and don’t bring your own shopping bag, then to get a cloth bag (plastic would not be offered) would cost a dollar. Likewise, shoppers should be rewarded with a dollar for bringing their own bags. Upping the ante on the cost/benefit would help change consumer behaviour more quickly. All stores (not just major department or grocery stores) should be mandated to switch their plastic bags to bags made from corn or other vegetable-based content. Most stores and shoppers continue to use enormous volumes of plastic bags. The environmental effects are staggering. How about a campaign to end the production of plastic bags by 2010, and a mandate to reduce the use of plastic bags by 50 percent over the next two years?

There are bio-friendly bag alternatives available for household garbage and compost too, products that do not just break down into a million tiny plastic pieces, but actually decompose, leaving no harmful chemicals or residues.

One question: During the shift to biodegradable bags or cloth bags, what do we do with all the plastic bags that are already in circulation?
JOANNE C. BROWN, EAST YORK

More on bags

I really enjoyed reading the Spring issue of ON Nature – an excellent Canadian magazine!

I have to respond to the Last Word column by Edward Keenan with only one word: typical! Another supposedly environmentally smart person who can’t get it right! The problem is under Mr. Keenan’s sink!

The first of the four Rs is Refuse. How does a person who wants to ban useless items like shopping bags end up having so many in the cupboard?

I have not taken shopping bags for 25 years. When I take a small number of items to the cashier, the first thing I say is, “No bag thank you.” I have an eclectic collection of canvas, cotton mesh, and nylon mesh produce and shopping bags, which I have used for years at grocery stores.

I quite enjoy going to stores that give us a pathetic rebate for using our own bags – a whole three cents, compared to the 10 cents each shopping bag costs the store. I’m doing my part though, and it also helps us to achieve our goal of only one small can of garbage every 10 plus weeks. Note that we also don’t buy garbage bags – another bright idea!

I agree with Mr. Keenan about banning the bag. There really is no need for them. Put your money where your keyboard is and do something about it. Set an example and act on it. Then tell others about it!
BRAD ABERNETHY, KING

Speaking of bags

I read with interest the Last Word article in the Spring 2007 issue on the subject of the plastic bag. I have been using cloth bags for my grocery shopping for a couple of years. I started using cloth bags because I was accumulating so many plastic bags from grocery shopping (for just myself alone) that I didn’t know what to do with them.

What I would like to know is why milk and dairy products in general have so much plastic packaging. Also, why does milk in cardboard cost so much more than milk in plastic bags? How can we eliminate plastic packaging for meat, bread and bakery products? I love your magazine and look forward to every issue.
ANGELA CHANG-ALLOY, BRAMPTON

Leave Trees Alone

I was appalled to read in the latest issue of ON Nature a pro-GMO article concerning poplar trees [“Poplar improvements,” Spring 2007, page 10].

There is little doubt that the viewpoint of the article is strongly in favour of foisting this extremely dangerous technology upon our northern forests. Not surprisingly, the driving force behind this concept is the powerful Ontario forestry industry and lobby. What is surprising, however – indeed astonishing – is to see such an article featured in the printed voice of the organization that supposedly has the interests of Ontario’s natural world at heart!

The article is full of thinly veiled justifications for GMO trees, and uses false appeals to preservation of the environment and trees to try to win us over to this viewpoint.

There is a very good chance that in the coming years we will be desperately fighting not only the spread of invasive alien organisms, but GMOs as well. They certainly have the potential to become every bit as disruptive – probably more so.
WALTER MUMA, CAMBRIDGE

Food for thought

The article that Bill Caulfeild-Browne quotes from The Economist gives a misleading view of organic farming and neglects some important issues about conventional farming [In the Mail, Spring 2007, page 7]. Some aspects of the “green revolution” have been adopted by organic farmers, such as improved yielding varieties and a greater understanding of soil chemistry and plant requirements. Making a comparison with farming practices 50 years ago misses the point. In fact, (this is quoted from the website of the Institute of Science in Society www.i-sis.org.uk/OBCA.php): “Researchers led by David Pimenthal, ecologist and agricultural scientist at Cornell University, New York, have now reviewed data from long-term field investigations and confirmed that organic yields are no different from conventional under normal growing conditions, but that they are far ahead during drought years.”

The reasons are well known: organic soils have greater capacity to retain water, as well as nutrients such as nitrogen. Organic soils are also more efficient carbon sinks and organic management saves on fossil fuel, both of which are important for mitigating global warming.

It should also be noted that if the massive direct and indirect subsidies were eliminated from conventional farming, there would be much less price differential between organic and conventional products.

Something that wasn’t mentioned in the article is the damage that conventional farming has been causing the environment, especially since the onset of the green revolution. Intensive irrigation and fertilization practices in arid areas (such as the Imperial Valley in California, the Murray/Darling River Basin in Australia and the Aral Sea vicinity in the former Soviet Union) have caused a buildup of salts in the soil that has started taking vast amounts of land out of production. Also, the rapid increase in irrigated farming has dramatically depleted underground reservoirs in vast areas that rely on them for their primary source of water. It has been projected that, due to irrigation and global warming, a significant number of resevoirs will dry out in the next 10 to 20 years. Many of the practices of the green revolution are not sustainable and, by having encouraged farmers to settle in marginal areas, the end result may prove catastrophic.

As for the elitism of the organic movement, I don’t think the lobbyists from Monsanto or DuPont or the Dow Chemical Company have experienced the physical sensation of hunger any more than the environmental lobbyists.

The sad truth is that most of the citizens of the developing world are not in a position to defend their interests. Others with greater means must do so on their behalf, just as others must do on behalf of the environment. I think Mr. Caulfeild-Browne would agree with me that there need not be a conflict between those concerned with social justice and those concerned with the environment. Surely everyone is needed who has the ability to stand up to those who promote their own interests over the long-term health of the planet or its citizens.

I invite Mr. Caulfeild-Browne to think of what our existing forest and wetlands could have been like had there been no polluting fertilizer runoff or decimation of bird and insect populations through pesticides.
BOB KENNEDY, TREASURER , CANADIAN ORGANIC GROWERS – GTA CHAPTER