The convenience of plastic products is unquestionable, and as long as it is placed in a recycling bin when it has served its purpose you have done your part in preserving the planet, right?
According to The World Counts, five trillion plastic bags will be used this year throughout the world, with less than 1% of those being recycled. So it is important to ask, is the convenience worth it?
In 2016 California introduced Proposition 67, also known as The California Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum. It was approved on Election Day, and California officially became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags. For some communities in California, however, this movement was already happening. The results haven’t been ideal, but there are lessons to be learned.
Take San Francisco for example. In 2007 the city banned the use of plastic bags by retailers with over $2 million in sales, becoming the first U.S.municipality to do so. However, the results were less than stellar. The ban proved to have too small of a scope, and the data showed that the percentage of waste created by plastic bags rose during the time of the ban.
Learning from the mistakes of their neighbor to the north, San Jose, California introduced a complete ban in 2011 that led to plastic litter reduction of approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in City streets and neighborhoods, according to a story posted in the Scientific American exploring the question of whether or not plastic bag bans have the intended effect.
By using San Francisco’s initial vision of a city without plastic bags there have been others that have followed suit with mixed results, but a common theme across the board is the amount of waste being cut down. The negatives begin to appear when considering the rise in costs that businesses are forced to deal with. Two years after the ban was put into place in Thurston County, Washington the results of a survey posted in
In July of 2014 the ban was put into action in Thurston County, Washington. Two years after the ban was put into place the results of a survey posted in The Olympian show that with paper bags being the only option, a discussion of whether or not the customers should be liable for the rise in costs has erupted. On one side, two-hundred million plastic bags have been removed from the waste stream, but 59% of businesses in the survey have reported a rise in costs due to there being no cheap alternative to plastic bags. It is important to note that the public was not given a voice in this surveyPerhaps these should be willingly shared between the public and the businesses in their community. The common goal of preserving the environment is one that should trump all, and these U.S. communities must realize that the results of plastic bag bans will have long term benefits, just ask Ireland and other European nations that are much deeper into this battle with unwanted waste.
Ireland installed a tax on the use of plastic bags of €0.15 tax in March 2002, which was raised to €0.22 in 2007. Within weeks, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. In a 2008 article written by Elisabeth Rosenthal for the New York Times Vincent Cobb, founder and president of reusablebags.com, says, “Plastic bags are a brilliant product but they are a victim of their own success. They’ve been perceived of as free when they have a real cost to the environment and to consumers.”
As of 2010, Ireland was the world leader in the removal of plastic bags and changes began to sweep across the European Union. According to a 2010 study, on average a citizen in the European Union would use 198 plastic bags per year. In Ireland, a citizen uses five plastic bags per year, with 13 other members of the EU coming in below the average. In 2012 Italy placed a ban on the use of plastic bags, and this past year France followed suit.
For more on the status of plastic bag use across the world, take a look at the work Big Fat Bags has been doing!