February 16th, 2008 by Janel Sterbentz
On March 27th 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban plastic bags in major supermarkets and pharmacies. Only biodegradable plastic and recyclable paper are allowed. Whole Foods recently announced that by April of this year it would end the use of plastic bags in all of its 270 stores in the US, Canada and the UK.
New York and New Jersey require retailers that use plastic bags to offer a recycling program, the city of Oakland, California, is considering a ban, and China announced a countrywide free plastic bag prohibition in January. Ireland took the lead in Europe, taxing plastic bags in 2002. Customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. The Irish government says the tax has reduced the use of disposable bags by 90 percent! The tax also raised millions of dollars in revenue.
The city of Paris decided to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags in large stores in 2007, in an effort to reduce pollution. Israel, Canada, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore and Bangladesh have also banned or are moving toward banning the plastic bag.
Robert Bateman, president of Roplast Industries , a manufacturer of plastic bags, says it costs one cent for a plastic grocery bag, whereas a paper bag costs four cents. As a result, plastic bags account for four out of every five bags handed out at the grocery store.
In January, about 42 billion plastic bags were used worldwide, according to reusablebags.com . The majority are
not recycled or reused , ending up in landfills or as litter. Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces which contaminate the soil and waterways, killing animals that accidentally ingest them. Plastic bags are made from petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource, contributing to the diminishing availability of oil and damage to the environment from the extraction of petroleum.
While paper bags are in some ways better for the environment, studies suggest that more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags.
The Film and Bag Federation , says that compared to paper grocery bags, plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes.
So if we make the effort to ban plastic, why not ban paper as well? Or at least make customers pay for them. In the meantime, canvass bags cost as little as $3 and take a moment to remember before leaving the house. You can also take along some reused plastic bags for vegetables, and other containers to fill up on oil or shampoo in the bulk section. Also, if your city or grocery store doesn’t have plastic bag recycling, ask them to offer it.
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