Relevant News: California’s Attempt to Ban Plastic Bags…

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No Thanks to Plastic Bags

The classic “paper or plastic” conundrum still vexes shoppers in grocery store checkouts today. You can recycle plastic bags, but still consume energy doing so. You can recycle or compost paper bags, but considering how many times you go to the grocery store, you’d have a lot of bags to deal with. One option, however, clearly emerges as the worser of the two: plastic. Let’s get into the numbers.

Just how many plastic bags are we talking about here?

  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Worldwide, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year – meaning nearly 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.

What happens to those plastic bags?

  • Of the estimated 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps produced in 2008, 3,570,000 tons (90 percent) were discarded. This is almost triple the amount discarded the first year plastic bag numbers were tracked (1,230,000 tons in 1980). (EPA)
  • Anywhere from .5% to 3% of all bags winds up recycled. (BBC, CNN)
  • In a landfill, a single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade – and remains toxic even after it’s broken down.

It’s difficult to look at these numbers and deny the need for a change in how we do things. It’s also difficult to make changes in our personal lives that aren’t convenient or practical. For grocery stores, it’s not practical to spend extra money on paper bags. For consumers, it’s not convenient to lug plastic bags to a location that can actually recycle them.

Some regional and national governments have actually legislated against (directly and indirectly) plastic bags. In 2001, Ireland implemented a plastic tax (or PlasTax). The first of its kind, this route acknowledges the fact that people will still occasionally use plastic bags. Ireland’s market-based solution discourages daily, thoughtless use of plastic bags by charging a nominal fee per bag at checkout. The Irish Department of the Environment found that plastic bag usage had dropped 93.5 percent, from 328 to 21 bags per person each year.

Last month the State of California tried to pass a law that would have banned grocery stores, pharmacies, and retails like Target and Wal-Mart from offering plastic bags. The proposition didn’t pass, though several California cities (including Malibu, Palo Alto, and San Francisco) have already passed bans on plastic.

In the midst of a cultural shift away from use-and-toss culture,  reusable bags can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags – carrying packaged foods home time and time again without consuming any additional resources. in.gredients is similar in that it promotes reusable containers – but goes a step further to eliminate packaging as well, which we consider the next step in shifting away from that “use-and-toss” way of life. We hope that shift continues!

Photography: Patrick Lane Photography

Written by Brian Nunnery

October 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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