Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Plastic Bag Bans – Good, Bad or Ugly??

by Eric Carlson, CPP - Chainalytics
Last week the ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags in Mexico City went into effect, joining many communities around the world from municipalities to countries. Mexico City is the second large city in North America after San Francisco to have outlawed the free distribution of thin plastic shopping bags; Washington DC has implemented a tax. Other worldwide bans or restrictions include Wales (complete ban) and Ireland with their 0.15 euro cents plastax on each bag, New Dehli, China, South Africa & Belgium. Many cities and towns are discussing the merits of imposing a ban including San Jose, CA.

In my readings, there have been 2 issues driving the move to ban the ubiquitous and highly utilitarian plastic bag; 1) visible litter; 2) joining the environmental bandwagon. With regard to the litter issue, these bags are reported to make up less than 0.5% of the US refuse; however, they are an easily identified object wherever they happen to land, so they are an easy target.

It seems that the litter issue is more an issue of consumer behavior and responsibility than an issue with the bags themselves. In the distant past – about 20+ years ago – trash was frequently flung out of cars, filling our roadsides with all manor of garbage. There has been a huge shift so that we as a society legislates and castigates against this behavior; we also utilize community service to clean our roadsides. The roadsides are now a mostly clean and verdant oasis across the country.

With regard to the environmental bandwagon, we could probably do more for the environment by simply keeping our tires optimally inflated to save money, reduce greenhouse gasses & global warming, etc. In a recent post from About.com …

Poorly Inflated Tires Increase Fuel Costs and EmissionsThat may not sound like much, but it means that the average person who drives 12,000 miles yearly on under-inflated tires uses about 144 extra gallons of gas, at a cost of $300-$500 a year.

I am sure that the cost of the bags we each use is well under $100/year/person. It seems that our behavior (the hardest thing to change) is the key to responsible use, re-use and disposal of the lowly but highly useful plastic bag.

Other reading includes:
Do we really need to ban plastic bags? – Gardian.co.uk
N.C. retailers hurry to prepare for bag ban – The Virginian-Pilot
Plastic Bag Wars Poised to Continue – NY Times

Debunking myths about plastic bags:

Tracking the bans & fees of plastic bags:

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