Paper or Plastic or Pay Up?

Posted on August 14, 2011

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With over 100 billion bags being consumed in the US per year (over 300 per person), Americans use enough to completely fill the Dallas Cowboy Stadium with plastic bags each year. Since we recycle less than 1% of plastic bags every year, it’s time to do something different to change consumer behavior. Every day that we shop, we are asked “Paper or Plastic?” and now there is a third choice: Pay up!

Two prime examples of bag taxes have had significant effects:

  • Washington D.C. – A $0.05 tax on plastic bags led to an initial 86% reduction in usage.
  • Ireland: The Irish were the first in the world to place a tax in 2002 ($0.21 per bag gradually increasing to $0.37) that led to a 94% reduction in plastic bag use from 2001 to 2011.

Other countries: Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark and others also have a $0.10-$0.15 tax or fee for each plastic bag.

Yet many locations are instituting bans. Since San Francisco started the first ban on plastic bags (only in grocery stores), there has been over a 30% reduction in plastic bag waste. Other West Coast cities have followed with bans taking effect within the next few 6-12 months in Portland, Oregon; Manhattan Beach, California; and Bellingham, Washington. Many other cities are considering either bans or plastic bag taxes to be adopted: Austin, Texas; Bakersfield, Calif.; Boston; New Haven, Conn.; Portland, Ore.; Phoenix; and Annapolis, Md.

Although the US is far behind in its policies to be green, 25% of the world’s population now live in areas that either ban or tax the use of plastic bags. Besides these two initiatives, there are only two viable ways of finding a sustainable solution for America’s love of plastic:

1)      Use biodegradable bags. Although these are now sold in stores for trash and other items, we consumers need to ask our stores to transition to compostable and biodegradable retail shopping bags. FYI, bio bags being sold today are only compostable (not biodegradable) despite their being marketed as bio bags.

2)      Use reusable bags;

  • Two Nordic countries offer biodegradable paper bags or reusable cloth bags to their retail customers;
  • Reusable cloth bags can eliminate thousands of plastic bags;
  • Stores can offer reusable cloth bags for a minimum purchase of products thereby increasing goodwill and customer loyalty to their brand OR
  • Stores can offer nominal discounts for purchases if customers bring reusable bags.

To learn more about the impact that plastic bags have on the environment, you can glance at the infographics chart or view the Bag It (YouTube)movie trailer that is the preview to the award-winning movie that describes how challenging our use of plastic is in the world.

Which will you choose: reusable bags or biodegradable bags? Your comments are welcome.

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© 2011 by Ed Valdez. All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Eco Leader