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Plastic Bags – 100 Billion a Year?

In the U.S., yes, and the writer wants a campaign to change that by making reusable grocery bags a habit for everyone.

We are a trendsetter for the nation when it comes to environmental, health, and safety concerns. It was 1955 when California became the first state to require all new cars to be equipped with seatbelts. This simple act has saved thousands upon thousands of lives on our highways and roads.

California was also the first state to thoroughly restrict smoking. In 1995, we enacted a ban on smoking in restaurants (without bars), factories, offices, and enclosed work places. The ban was extended in 1998 to bars and nightclubs—patrons had to snuff out their butts at midnight on New Year’s Eve. At the time, many said it could not work and would kill off many businesses. Guess what? The sky did not fall, and we got rid of a nasty cultural habit. Does anyone really miss the stale smoke smell on their clothes and hair, or in their lungs?

Now, we have another cultural bad habit that we need to lose: our dependence on plastic single-use bags. I have to draw a line in the sand. This wasteful practice is killing our environment, and quite simply has to stop. We can make a stand right here locally by calling on representatives at the city and state levels to regulate single-use bags for all businesses. I would even support an outright ban on all non-biodegradable bags.

If you don’t know how devastating the lowly plastic bag is to the earth, there is a short and amusing video primer in the media box.

Here are the facts: According to multiple sources, California annually uses an estimated 19 billion plastic bags. That is a yearly average of 500 bags for each man, woman, and child living in the state.

That number contrasts with the average in Ireland, which is 37 bags per person. Why the big difference? Because 10 years ago, the Irish government imposed a fee to consumers of 15 cents for every plastic bag they used. It worked in dramatic fashion, and the rate of consumption plummeted 90 percent in just three months.

This regulation has come to be known as the plastic bag fee law. If you make a retail purchase and don’t have your own bag, you get charged. Many cities in California have passed ordinances banning plastic bags altogether, and charging a fee for recycled paper bags.

If you are feeling civic minded, send your local leaders an email telling them how you stand on this important issue. You can also tell your state legislators that you support the bill to ban plastic bags, which was narrowly defeated last year in the Senate.

For the past two years, I've dutifully brought my cloth bags on almost every shopping trip. I have been the distinct minority. The time has come to wake up the general population about this problem with a little hit to their pocketbooks.

This is a small thing that you can do to change the world for the better.

Robin Kaufman March 22, 2012 at 02:39 PM
You used two key words in the last sentence of your third paragraph: "non-biodegradable bags". Most dog parks utilize biodegradble bags to collect the dog waste. Why not have companies switch to producing and using biodegradable bags (yes it will cost a bit more, but will be more enviornmentally friendly)? I'm all for re-usable cloth bags and use them often, but they have been shown to carry a lot of germs since many people don't properly clean them after placing food and other items in them. A win/win compromise may be to ban single use, non-biodegradeable bags and call for use of biodegradeable bags.
celia kiewit March 22, 2012 at 05:50 PM
There is no such thing as a truly biodegradable plastic yet. Those from the dispensers at the beach for dog mess are not reliable. Use junk mail to pick up behind Rover. Use cloth that is washable for grocs. Or become vegetarian and no worries. Corn-based plastic is not a good idea when much of the world is starving. Avoid all single-use plastics. See www.algalita.org for the research and join us.
Jennifer Vigil March 22, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Thanks Robin and Celia for sharing your ideas. It's nice to hear of other alternatives too!
Charles Wagner March 22, 2012 at 09:46 PM
All my bags I take for grocery, hardware or other shopping are washable. Thanks Corky for your article. Wish more people thought like us!!!
Robin Kaufman March 22, 2012 at 11:55 PM
As I commented, I am all for resuable bags and use them myself. However, many people forget the importance of washing them after being used due to contaminants which can be very harmful: http://childparenting.about.com/od/healthsafety/a/How-To-Use-Reusable-Shopping-Bags-Safely.htm or http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/06/reusable-shopping-bags-and-food-safety/ explain the safey hazards and how to avoid them.
Corky Lang March 23, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Hi Robin, Thanks for your good advise. I agree washing your cloth bags is important. However, you may find it interesting to see who sponsored the some of the studies. http://plasticbagbanreport.com/the-reusable-bag-urban-myth/
Charles Wagner March 23, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Thank you for the link to see who is putting out the info on the bacteria accumulating in our reusable bags!

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