Friday, July 17, 2009

Plastic Bags Banned in Some Cities

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


Anonymous said...

Some of the choices that San Francisco opted for along with other cities are wrong. Using a biobased plastic such as PLA is illogical. They use more fossil fuels than plastic and will only break down in a commercial or municipal compost. (There are only 87 in the entire US). So it goees into the landfill where it will last 400 yrs like a normal bag. Paper also uses more energy than plastic.It will not biodegrade in landfills either. There are biodegradable plastics that are certified landfill degradable- ASTM 5511 and ASTM 5522, but they are not approved by these cities! Great thinking there!!

sharingsunshine said...

It's certainly not a simple issue. This article gives great detail about the manufacturing of each, but you'll notice there's a big difference in the amount of oil used between the two articles, so information may not be standard:

One issue the link article points out is that people should choose the bag that is most likely to be reused. I'm a tree hugger so I don't like to use paper, but our recycling rules are that to recycle household paper it must be in a brown paper bag.

Since we haven't bought plastic bags for any of our trash or garbage cans for over 20 years, we definitely reuse the plastic bags, however, we don't need that many since we don't throw away garbage (we put it out for the wildlife to eat).

We also order our food in bulk every six months, so all that we purchase at a grocery store is produce and a few items now and then from the shelf. Buying in bulk/case lot saves a lot on the grocery budget, but you have to get over "a hankering for ...." to get used to the process. We have committed to eating to live, and not living to eat.

The best choice of all is to take your own bags ... even if they're plastic grocery store bags. You don't have to buy the fancy ones if you'll reuse what you get.

And as far as taking those bags to the store for recylcing .... ask the store what they do with those bags. Some stores have a specific program to convert them into something ... but many bags collected for recycling never get recycled. A growing trend is to ship them to Third world countries which are rapidly becoming the dumping grounds for the Western world's glut of recyclables. Rather than being recycled they are cheaply incinerated under more lax environmental laws.

1wino said...

If Mexico City can do it anyone can do it! It's funny how Americans react to change. I am relatively certain that people agree going reusable is the way to go. The fact that the govenment will be making people go reusable is why we have objection. We need to find a way to show people the way without "telling" them what they will do. Once we figure that out the rest is easy!
Douglas Lober

Stacey Bourne said...

Other Asian countries also practicing plastic banned especially in the shopping stores. I guess this is very helpful to prevent many disasters like floods, fires etc. In this way, we can help other people and to our mother earth as well. biodegradable plastic bags can be also effective to minimize the usage of plastic bags.

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