The little plastic grocery bag. It has become quite the hot topic. Plastic bag bans and fees are popping up around the world. Just last week, Brookline, MA became the second Massachusetts town to ban plastic bags. The first in Massachusetts was Nantucket in 1990! But what is the big deal with plastic bags? Why are they so bad?
I wrote about The Problems with Plastics in Greene Westford column in May 2011. Here are the reasons stated in that article.
BIG PICTURE REASONS
Plastic never goes away! Yes these bags can be recycled (at grocery stores NOT curbside). However, this is only possible a few times. Each time plastics are recycled, they are degraded. Eventually, recycling is no longer possible and they must get thrown away. In a landfill, it can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Even then, plastics actually photo degrade which releases toxins into the soil, air, and water. Ironic that plastics are long lasting, yet they are mostly used for disposable items like water bottles and ziptop baggies
Recycling Rates are very low. Many people don’t know or take the time to recycle the bags so the recycling rate is very low. Numbers varied, but it is less than 5%.
Plastic pollutes the oceans. Lots of plastic makes it way to the oceans (heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch?). In the oceans, plastic bags can strangle animals or they mistake plastic bits for food. Not such a healthy meal for them. Or us! Guess who is eating those fish?
Plastic contains toxic chemicals. Plastics contain 2 chemicals that are of particular interest – bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. These chemicals can leach into foods where they are then ingested. Both of these chemicals mimic estrogen and can disrupt our own hormones. Effects of exposure to these hormone disruptors include immune dysfunction, metabolic disorders (diabetes) and reproductive problems. Infants and small children are most vulnerable to BPA.
Plastics are made from oil. The same oil that is used to produce gasoline. Oil, as we know, is not going to last indefinitely. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s oil supply is used for creating plastics.
So those are the big picture reasons. Let’s make this a little more personal.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME
Plastic bags are a pain to deal with Reusable bags are so much easier to carry. You can sling them on your shoulder and they don’t dig into your fingers cutting off the circulation.
Save Money. Many stores give discounts – Target, Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop give you 5 cents per bag. Roche Brothers give 5 cents for their bags to Children’s Hospital. Make sure to ask at Target, they often forget.
Oh I can hear it now. “Yes but those reusable bags are full of bacteria! And what if my meat leaks in them.” Um, you wash your clothes right? You wash your counter after meat juice leaks all over the place, right? WASH THE BAGS!
I was recently told about this Plastic Bag Ban Map. It shows what is going on worldwide with plastic bag bans and fee programs.
- Notice that MANY island nations and those bordering the ocean have instituted some sort of reduction measures. They see the destruction first hand.
- Many countries, The. Entire. Country, has a bag ban in place: Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, and China are among them.
- The red pins represent the failures. I was saddened to see that most of the red pins are in the US.
There are opportunities here. Opportunities = Jobs, Money, Growth. Washington DC instituted a bag fee. All of the money collected would go toward cleaning up the Anacostia river. Plastic bags made up 21% of the trash is this river and 40% in its tributaries. Guess what happened? People brought their own bags and the fee generated only half the revenue expected!
If you live in Massachusetts, you might be forced to consider this switch soon. State Rep. Lori Ehrlich will be co-sponsoring a bill to ban the bags in Massachusetts. She will bring this bill to session this January.
I hope this gains momentum. I am afraid that an outright ban will most likely fail in Massachusetts. As I looked around at articles online about Brookline’s ban, I kept seeing comments to the tune of “I don’t want big government telling me what to do.” “I reuse my bags!” Not that people want more fees in “Taxachusetts”, but I think it might be less of a sting to people. Well, maybe a different sting.
Do You Use Reusable Bags?
This post is shared at Small Footprints Friday