Plastic bag bans aim to begin the process of stepping away from our reliance on plastic in its most popular form. Plastic is inescapable in our daily lives and many of us have grown so used to its many daily functions it may seem difficult to imagine doing away with it completely.
Because of their functional popularity, it is argued plastic bags have multiple, versus single-use, uses including: trash can liners, pet waste bags, lunch sacks, and many other household functions. However, they cannot be considered “single-use” as some advocates of plastic bag bans claim. The fact is the term “single-use” points to the lifecycle of plastic bags. A product’s lifecycle is determined by what it will become at the end of its current form’s functional life. For example, paper products are recycled back into a “pulp” form where it can be reused in a very wide variety of new post-consumer goods like paper, cardboard, insulation, even roofing. Most plastic bags, on the other hand, never make it to recycling centers because they ultimately, and unnecessarily, enter the waste stream, our environment, and our neighborhoods.
Plastic bag bans are a way to reduce plastic pollution by addressing the problem at the source. They cannot, by themselves, eliminate plastic and its potential for entering into our waste stream, but plastic bag bans can begin a mental shift away from using much of the plastic in our lives. Humans are naturally resistant to a change in habit or convenience, and plastic bag bans are simply taking the choice out of our daily equations. Granted, there are plenty of other plastic products available to consumers but plastic bags, as a form of plastic, are the greatest threat to our environment and one of the most common litter concerns in our culture. Plastic bag bans ultimately remove a major contributor in our waste stream and that fact is difficult to dismiss.
According to The Clean Air Council, Americans use over one billion disposable plastic bags a year, and add over 300,000 tons of plastic waste to landfills each year! Even further, the cost of recycling a single ton of plastic is approximately $4000 while a ton of recycled content may sell for $20-$50.
“The broker who purchases recycled plastic bags from the City of Palo Alto pays the City $20 per ton for them only if they are baled. Considering the process of trucking the plastic bags to and from the recycling center and the expenditure of labor to handle and bale the bags, the preferred alternative to recycling plastic bags is not to use them at all. . . . . . She strongly recommends reusable cloth bags instead.”
- (Source: Sierra Club, Kay Bushnell)
The ultimate take-away here is plastic bag bans are doing more than reducing future levels of plastic in our environment or neighborhoods, plastic bag bans are reducing the economic strain and imbalance that occurs with recycling. Not to mention the tons of plastic that does not, at the very least, make it to a recycling center. Seattle, Washington is the latest large city to create a citywide plastic bag ban and as with every other city, it has been met with some opposition but was largely well-accepted. The major concerns for opponents were their rights to “free” bags and the loss of plastic bags they use for so many daily tasks. The facts are the bags were never free and there are many other options to lining your trash cans, picking up after your pets, or carrying your lunches. Plastic bag bans are one of many municipal “green” actions meant to improve our standard of living by making us aware of habits we may not have considered otherwise.
In the end, plastic bag bans are being widely passed because many consumers, community leaders, and businesses understand the only way to a greener, healthier, and sustainable future is to change our wasteful habits and alter our lifestyles. Again, no habit is easy to break and many (myself included) do not enjoy interruptions in the routine of our lives. In some ways, removing the temptation altogether is so much easier a method for cessation.
So get out there, support the ban and pick up some reusable bags to keep in your pocket, on your bike, or even in your. . . . car?. . . . . that is another subject.