An unlikely 'bag lady'
She collects and sends plastic shopping bags to Jamaica

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL - Heather Hamilton is wrapped up in finding new uses for plastic shopping bags.

The "bag lady" collects shopping bags and sends the most decorative ones to her relatives in Jamaica, where plastic bags aren't as common.

"The bag itself wasn't the original motivation," she says. "We were sending things down to Jamaica and we needed something to pack them in."

Hamilton, a communications officer with Environment Canada, says the bags make excellent packing material. "You can scrunch them up and then they expand to fill up the box," she says.

Her Caribbean relatives love the bags almost as much as the gifts they come in them because they are made from decorative, heavy-duty, reusable plastic, unlike the ones in Jamaica.

Jamaican shopping bags, says Hamilton, are made from thin, black plastic.

"It takes so much energy to make a plastic bag that some oil-producing countries won't produce plastic bags because the oil is too valuable," she says.

In contrast, Canada produces $40 million worth of plastic bags every year, according to Statistics Canada. This works out to be almost two billion bags per year, and a total of 5.5 billion bags when imported plastic shopping bags are included.

Hamilton says that bags from designer stores such as Holt Renfrew are particularly coveted down south. So she collects all those bags and sends them to her relatives and they use them for tote bags.

But her bag fetish is rooted in more serious interests.

An environmentalist at heart, she is concerned about the large amount of plastic discarded in Canada, and wants to do her part in decreasing the environmental hazard.

"They have such a short lifespan and then they're around for 100 years in landfill," she says. "There is no way of destroying them -- they last forever."

Hamilton says that people have to start to reuse their plastic bags because of the sheer number of them already on Earth. She would like to see people reuse the existing ones instead of manufacturers continuing to make more. "Everybody has their own private stash," she said.

She believes the bags have serious implications for the planet in generations to come.

"Can you see archeologists in 2000 years -- we'll all be gone, and they'll be finding those yellow plastic bags all over North America," she said.