Throughout past decade, the world has consistently been moving towards using less resources and switching to reusable sources. One of the biggest movements has been cutting back on plastics and single-use plastic bag usage. Recently, places all around the world have enacted plastic bag bans. These bans are based off of the detrimental effects these bags can have on the environment.
The Harm of Plastic Bags
Plastic bags have been attributed to many environmental issues. According to NHPR the average American family uses about 500 plastic bags a year, totaling one hundred billion nationally. Of that hundred billion, only 1-8% gets recycled – leaving the majority ending up in landfills, the ocean or other areas of nature. These bags pollute the environment and pose a detrimental threat to wildlife. Each plastic bag can take up to 100 years to break down.
An article by takepart.com detailed many different positive aspects of California reducing their plastic bag consumption. According to the nonprofit Californians Against Waste, retailers spend an extra 315 million dollars a year to provide consumers with “free” bags at checkout. The same agency stated that eliminating these bags would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 175,000 tons annually. Because these bags are made from oil, they also increase our nation’s dependency on oil. Nearly 300 species have been proven to consume or become trapped in the ocean plastic debris. The Ocean Conservancy’s stated that in their 2013 International Coastal Cleanup they found 441,493 plastic bags. In 2013, the United Nations Environment Program put a $13 billion dollar price tag on plastic pollution which included the death of sea creatures by plastic, proliferation of invasive species that spread via plastic debris and economic losses suffered by fishing and tourism industries.
The harms of plastic are becoming harder and harder to ignore, the Inquistir reported that around 115 cities and counties in America have passed laws that ban the use of plastic bags. This page includes a list of checkout bag legislation across America.
Bills Promoting Bans on Plastic Bags
Many different areas in America are taking serious steps forward towards ending single-use plastic bags. On Earth Day 2015, Connecticut representatives met outside the capital to introduce their “Earth Day” plastic bag bill, SB 349, that would effectively end single-use plastic and paper bag use in the state. New Yorkers also made a huge push to pass their own plastic bag bill, Intro 209, on Earth Day this year.
In September 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed America’s first statewide ban, SB 207, on single-use plastic bags in grocery and convenience stores in California. The basis for this ban was the massive amount of harm and pollution these bags cause in their streets, waterways and ocean. SB 207 was scheduled to take effect July 2015, but due to strong opposition the law will be up for a statewide vote in November 2016. One major concern for many areas with plastic bag bans is the potential for job loss due to the discontinuation of production. In order to mitigate this issue, California included a section of the bill that would give $2 million in loans for plastic bag manufacturers to shift their operations to manufacturing reusable bags. Since the delay in the statewide ban, Sacramento was the first city to approve their own ban.
Oahu is also gearing up for the implementation of their plastic bag ban ban in 2015 as well. Although their ban is not perfect and they have a lot of work to do on it, Kahi Pacarro the director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii said, “At this point, now we got something in. So now we’ve worked together, proven that we can do it together. Now let’s take the next step and close these loopholes.” Other areas around the US are also attempting to implement their own bans. Cambridge voted at the end of March 2015 to ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, making it the largest city in Massachusetts to enact a plastic bag ban. Councilor Dennis Carlone stated, “All in all, I think it’s a win-win for everybody, we somehow survived without plastic before, and we will do it again.” In order to address issues for lower income or elderly people to make the switch to reusable, Councilor Marc McGovern proposed a supplement that also passed asking the city to purchase 10,000 reusable bags and allowing Cambridge students to design those bags in a citywide competition.
Terry J Sabo wants Muskegon County, Michigan to be the first community in Michigan to ban stores from giving out plastic bags. As of April 22, 2015 single-use bags are no longer allowed for distribution in Southampton. Portsmouth, New Hampshire is considering an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags in the city, and allow stores to pass on a 10-cent per bag fee for using paper bags. City Councilor Brad Lown who is sponsoring the bill stated, “People like to trot out the state motto ‘Live Free or Die’… People say ‘I have the right to choose between a plastic bag and a paper bag’; Well, that’s not a right, it’s something that just needs to be addressed as a long term environmental impact in my view.”
Bills Promoting Bans on Plastic Bag Bans
Recently there has been a lot of backlash on the regulation of distribution of plastic bags. Arizona recently passed SB 1241, which is a law that will stop local governments from putting any restrictions on bags, bottles, cans and boxes. Their main reason is that the state officials are concerned that that future “excessive regulation” on bags and other disposable containers that could stifle economic growth. Following them, Missouri introduced HB 722 to prevent any “political subdivision from imposing any ban, fee, or tax upon the use of paper or plastic bags for packaging any item or good purchased.”
Huntington Beach also became the first place in California to repeal the statewide plastic bag ordinance. Mike Posey, council member, stated that his intention “was not really about the environment but about freedom of choice. It’s not government’s job to impose retail prices on paper bags or prohibit a product like plastic bags, which aren’t illegal.” Posey brings up a valid point that the plastic bag bans can be a gateway into more regulation on products that pose a threat to the environment. Big retailers are joining the movement towards reusable bags by offering them at checkout. Here are examples from some of the biggest stores.
What are your thoughts about plastic bag bans? I personally believe that it is not too much to require people to use reusable bags and use some of the money saved from not purchasing these bags to help out lower income people and elderly make the switch. It is proven that these bags are incredibly harmful to the environment. Fossil fuels will only last so long and with renewable and clean energy resources lagging behind how fast our oil reserves are being depleted, why not save the oil for our engines that need them instead of using it for a single-use bag? I firmly believe that protecting our environment and the future generation from something so easily mitigated as a the single-use plastic bag has nothing to do with freedom and freedom of choice, but for the well-being of our country in the future.