There is a sense of shame whenever one forgets a recyclable bag and has to opt for the plastic. And for good reason: plastic bags cause litter, clog recycling machines, take up landfill space and make marine mammals sick.
We often don't think of it, but plastic comes from petroleum, so reducing plastic bags, reduces the need for petroleum. Jared Blumenthal, Director of the San Francisco's Department of the Environment, states the stats: It takes 430,000 gallons of oil to manufacture 100 million bags.
Furthermore, although these bags appear to be "free" with a store purchase, the actual cost of the plastic bags is hidden. San Francisco officials estimated that each plastic bag costs taxpayers 17 cents to remove from streets, parks, gutters, storm drains, and the waste stream.
So when in 2007 San Francisco decided to go after the source and create an ordinance banning plastic bags in large markets and drug stores, it was a big deal. Large supermarkets and drug stores, like Walgreen's and Rite-Aide are now required to use compostable bags made of corn starch, biodegradable plastic, or recyclable paper sacks. As TH readers know, changing consumer behavior, especially when it involves convenience, should be considered a radical initiative in the U.S.
San Francisco Followed Examples Set in Europe, China, India, Australia
The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, was the first such law in any city in the United States, but not the first one in any municipality in the world. Markets in Florence, Italy, had been charging €0.10-0.20 per plastic bag for more than four years. Ireland, had already taxed plastic bags years earlier and levying bags has reduced the production of plastic bags in that country by 90%.
Other countries, including China, India, Australia, and several other countries in Europe, have also restricted the use of plastic bags. This international movement has gained traction with many cities on schedule to impose fees and bans on plastic bags.
Recently more cities in the U.S. have followed San Francisco’s lead, including Oakland, Berkeley, Boston, Portland, and Los Angeles. The state of Hawaii's Legislature is considering banning the distribution of plastic shopping bags by retail stores and supermarkets.
Some cities opt instead to tax the bags, pouring back the money collected into conservation and recycling efforts. Other cities in the U.S., like Virginia Beach, have opted instead for plastic bag recycling programs. These efforts are often coordinated by the stores, who fear a ban would have a drastic impact on their business during a time of recession, and requires some retailers to collect and recycle plastic bags at their stores.
TH hopes the once ubiquitous plastic bag, along with that well-known phrase: "you want paper or plastic?", are on the way to becoming soon obsolete.
Read about businesses and towns that have Banned the Plastic Bag. It has been estimated that over a million birds and 100,000 marine animals, including mammals and turtles, die each year from plastic debris. Visit Marine Connection