It doesn’t take many plastic shopping bags to make a trash-strewn mess, wherever they land.

One of the more contentious debates that played out across North America in recent years is whether retailers should use plastic bags for customer purchases or find something better.

It was prompted by a growing body of evidence that too many plastic bags ended up as litter or added to trash buried in landfills, where they can take decades to decompose.

Some cities enacted bag bans that sparked pushback from people who didn’t want to be told they couldn’t use them. The compromise adopted by many municipalities was to allow retailers to charge for bags – five cents apiece in Toronto – to reduce the number in circulation.

It suddenly is a hot topic again, as stores prohibit customers from bringing in used shopping bags – a practice favoured by my wife — or reusable fabric or plastic sacks, fearing they could be infected with COVID-19 germs.

If you want bags for your purchases at No Frills, your only choice now is to use the new ones they provide. But at least they’ve temporarily dropped the five-cent fee.

All of this came to mind recently as I was driving along Weston Road and came across a disgusting array of shredded bags, fluttering from the top of a fence and in adjacent trees, near the Oak Street intersection.

It was an incredible sight: black garbage bags filled with wind like a helium balloon, dangling from tree branches, while barbed wire at the top of a fence around a cellphone transmission tower was lousy with shredded plastic.

There was so much that it had me wondering where it could possibly come from. I looked around and figured that it had to be street trash, and lots of it.

A Google Street View image from last May shows a similar amount of plastic hung up in the barbed wire at the top of the fence, so it’s not a recent development.

But it’s safe to say that without the bag fee and people reusing shopping bags or taking their own tote bags to stores, the mess along Weston and a lot of other locations would be even worse.

Once the virus has abated, I’m hoping stores will once again start charging for bags – even though I resent paying for them – and allow people to bring their own, to keep the mess down.

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