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Ban the Bag

Posted Jan 10 2011 3:54pm

Bag hanging in a tree on the banks of the Wabash River

On Jan. 1, 2011, Italy became the first European country to totally ban the single-use plastic bag.  Many Italian cities had already banned them so many customers were accustomed to this.  Italy was a big plastic bag user, 1/ 5 of all the bags in Europe.  Italian stores can use up the bags they have on hand, then they must give out paper or biodegradable ones.  Paper bags are not a good substitute since they are very polluting to produce.  At least they degrade in a relatively short time.  There will be some adjusting as Italian customers get used to this. I applaud Italy for doing taking this bold action - I think I love you, Italy!.

Around the world, plastic bags are either banned or taxed.  Some countries have implemented a ban and then changed it to a tax or recended the ban, but many have had great success.  These are some of the places that are trying to deal with the plastic bag plague.

  • Italy passed a total ban on plastic bags that went into effect Jan. 1,2011.
  • In Australia, about 90 percent of retailers have signed up with the government's voluntary program to reduce plastic bag use.
  • Taiwan requires restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores to charge customers for plastic bags and utensils. It has resulted in a 69 % drop in their use.
  • South Africa has a tax on bags that began in May, 2003. Because there are so many bags hanging in trees and littering the ground, they call plastic bags their “National Flower”.
  • In 2006, Kenya and Uganda implemented some restrictions, prohibiting thinner plastic bags and imposing levies on thicker ones.
  • By 2007, most of Australia is complying with a voluntary reduction of plastic bags that has resulted in 46% fewer bags being used.
  • In March 2002, Bangladesh put a ban on all polyethylene bags in the capital, Dhaka, after they were found to have been the main culprit during the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged two-thirds of the country.  This lead to the revival of the jute bag industry which is sustainable.
  • In June, 2007, Belgium started a tax on single-use plastic bags.
  • By 2008, China was prohibiting stores from giving away free plastic bags. They must sell the bags.
  • In India,plastic bags thinner than 20 microns are banned in the cities of Mumbai and Delhi.
  • Tanzania banned plastic bags in 2006 starting one of the most successful bans in Africa.
  • Switzerland requires retailers to charge for disposable plastic bags. 
  • Mexico City banned the plastic bag in 2009.
  • In the USA:  San Francisco and LA County, have banned the single-use bag.

Why is it so difficult to pass a plastic bag ban or tax in the US?  In 2007, San Francisco became the first US city to try to ban the bag.  Industries related to plastic bag manufacturing got heavily involved: petroleum and chemical companies, food merchants, bag wholesalers and distributors, the American Chemistry Council, and the Progressive Bag Alliance. They lobby and they threaten.  They have successfully turned the tables on the environmental issue. Groups like this have the money to fight while state and city governments do not. 

They say that plastic bag recycling is the answer.  If a ban or a tax is passed, it will interupt the bag recycling process.  Using biodegradable bags would contaminate the recycling stream, so they don't like them. I’m just saying - this is their logic.
Their most potent weapon has been to demand that governments/cities do an environmental impact study in order to ban the bags.  In other words, they must prove that plastic bags are detrimental to the environment before a ban/tax can be passed.  An EIS can cost around $100,000, so cities and states back down.  They tend to back down and, rather than totally quit, they pass ordinances that ask businesses to voluntarily cut back on disposable bags.  This has not worked.

What is wrong with this picture?  Industry is misusing a law that was intended to protect the environment.  We all know that the plastics industry is not interested in the environment, rather they care about the bottom dollar.  As I see it, this is a capitalist society and we are the consumers.  Most consumers really do not like the disposable bag, (No, I have not done a scientific survey to prove this.) so we should be able to ban them if we want to.  We should be like the residents of Fairfax, CA ,who have collected signatures to put a bag ban on the local ballot.  If passed, an EIS would not be required. And it did pass. This may be the way to ban the bag, one US city at a time.  

If you are interested in banning the pesty plastic bag, contact your city government and be ready to help work on the issue.  Don’t let big business and the almight dollar determine what is best for the environment in this issue.

Do you need a reminder of why disposable shopping bags are harmful?  Americans throw away about 100 billion bags per year.  Less than 1% of the bags are actually recycled.
  • They are made from valuable resources - mostly natural gas.
  • They strangle animals on land and in the water.
  • They are so prolific and lightweight, they are a serious litter problem.
  • They take decades to centuries to degrade, depending on where they end up.
  • It costs retailers about 4 billion dollars per year to give bags away.
  • They are dangerous for children, who can be suffocated when playing with them.
  • They clog plumbing and public waterways.  
  • If recycled, they frequently clog recycling machinery.
Read my previous post about the ills of paper bags .
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