Plastic bag bans have been picking up momentum internationally for some time now, and 2011 kicks off with the instating of another big one: Starting yesterday, single-use non-biodegradable plastic bags will be outlawed in Italy. And while plenty of questions remain about the ban's rules and efficacy, it's a considerable leap, seeing as how Italy uses 25% of all the plastic bags in Europe -- around 25 billion a year. This NBC video report checks in on the first day of the ban.Plastic bag bans like these have proven hugely effective elsewhere -- by one count, China's ban has kept some 100 billion bags out of the landfill since it was put into effect two years ago. The plastic bag tax enacted in Washington DC has had impressive results as well, sparing millions of bags a month from the dumps. So it's no wonder that we're seeing more such bans and taxes creep up across the US.
It's nice to see the general decline of the plastic bag paradigm begin to take hold around the world after having been a staple of modern consumption for so long. After all, the plastic bag is one of the ultimate symbols of modern consumerist excess -- its sole purpose is to conveniently provide a means of transporting stuff you just bought from the shop to your home. Its usefulness (creative reuses notwithstanding) lasts about 10 minutes. Yet it survives for hundreds of years, clogging up landfills and trashing our environment.
If we weren't all inculcated to the convenience of plastic bags, doing away with them for good would be the biggest no-brainer this side of banning DDT. The fact that we're finally making that move on a significant scale gives a little hope that we might address the myriad other, more complex sustainability challenges still in the pipeline.