Saturday, 29 January 2011

Plastic Bag Bans Gain Momentum in US

Across the country, hundreds of municipalities are considering banning or taxing free plastic bags. In 2007, San Francisco became the first major city to ban plastic bags. Even smaller towns, including 30 Alaskan rural villages have banned the bags. In September, Westport CT became the latest in the trend by overwhelmingly approving the ordinance.
To replace plastic bags, consumers are switching to reusable shopping and grocery bags. According to NPD Accessories Tracker, annual reusable bag sales are up 72% as of May, and are now the most popular accessory in the marketplace.
Plastic bags are considered bad because they clog up the landfills and litter our highways and waterways. According to the EPA, Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags each year, and less than 2% get recycled. Most municipalities will not pick them up because they can gum up the recycling machines. Also it is not considered cost effective compared to other recyclables such as aluminum cans.
To visualize the amount of plastic bag waste generated each year consider this: the EPA says that if everyone in New York City used just one less plastic bag per year, the city would save $250,000 in disposal costs.
It takes oil to make plastic bags. When Ireland enacted aPlasTax in 2002, the 90% reduction in plastic bag usage is credited with saving the country 400,000 barrels of oil each year. China banned free plastic bags last summer and expects to save 34 million barrels of oil. Australia made a concerted effort to encourage reusable bags and now saves 1.4 million barrels of oil each year from its 58% reduction in plastic bags.
Plastic bags are harmful to our environment, and are considered to cause the death of a million seabirds each year, as well as 100,000 marine mammals and countless fish. Animals often mistake the plastic for prey such as jellyfish, and they can choke when they ingest the bags. Sometimes the bags entangle the animals. Plastic never truly decomposes, it photodegrades. So even when the plastic breaks down into tiny particles it can still harm the animals since they cannot digest it, so plastic particles keep filling the stomach and can eventually starve the animal because there is no more room for food. One dissected seabird contained over 1600 pieces of plastic in its stomach.
As more and more people learn about the harmful effects of plastic bags, they are switching to reusable bags and encouraging their legislators to take action to either ban or tax bags in an effort to help our planet.
Kit Parks is the president of Ecoroot, a reusable products company which donates 20% of its profits to environmental education programs. She writes about environmental and lifestyle issues. Parks can be contacted via the Ecoroot website