Plastic Bags: Ban and Tax?

plastic bag litter photo

Photo via Flickr: by Zainub

San Francisco is the first U.S. city set to ban plastic bags and Los Angeles City Council followed suit, approving a ban, effective July 2010. Last week, they also tacked on a 25-cent fee on paper or plastic bags—including biodegradable versions—after next year's ban. Seven cents will go to stores and 18 cents will fund California's anti-pollution and recycling programs. LA uses two billion plastic bags each year and only 5% get recycled. San Francisco uses half that amount. Other countries are banning plastic bags, so imagine if other U.S. cities instituted the same policy. But no.On May 14, Philadelphia's City Council rejected a 25-cent tax on plastic and paper bags. Organizations such as the "Progressive Bag Affiliates" of the American Chemistry Council applauded Philly's decision, stating it was "a punitive approach," especially "during a recession," noting it would add approximately $400 to family grocery bills.

Of course, that's not true if people shop with reusable bags, which might cost $3 annually at $1 per bag. However, continued use of polyethylene bags would seem to be in the interest of the American Chemistry Council, which believes "consumers don't need to bear a tax in order to help protect the environment."

The outfit claims 830 million pounds of plastic bags and wrap were recycled in the U.S. during 2007 - an increase of 27 percent from 2005. Four of the largest manufacturers of plastic bags recently announced a goal to reach 40% recycled content with 25% post-consumer material in plastic bags by 2015. It's an improvement but we can do better.

The "Full Circle Recycling Initiative" is supposed to reduce greenhouse gasses by 463 million pounds and reduce waste by 300 million pounds every year. "Plastics, including plastic bags, are resources that are too valuable to waste," said a spokeperson, adding that raising awareness and improving recycling is the way to reduce litter. That doesn't address the petroleum and energy required to produce the things, nor the danger to wildlife.


BYOB (Bring your own bag) by Tucker Bags.

In Seattle, Tucker Bags, maker of a collection of reusable bags, offers a solution to the tax issue, partnering with the city to donate 10,000 stylish sacks to families through food banks. It's also launching a promotional campaign for reusable bags to retailers and customers. Tucker's reusable bags are the size of two plastic grocery bags, holding more than 35 lbs., and easily fold into a purse or pocket.

Last year, NW Harvest food bank spent nearly $16,000 on 500,000 plastic bags at just one location. It aims to cut that in half in 2009. And Trader Joe's stores encourage customers bring their own bags by raffling off $20 worth of groceries each week.

So, a tax may be a hardship for the poor, but plastic and paper bags isn't the alternative. And it may be a feel-good green gesture and not enough, compared to other polluters, but the problem is growing worldwide. So like recycling, it's time to legally bag the bag.

More on plastic bags:
San Francisco To Ban Plastic Shopping Bags
IKEA Bans Plastic Bags for Good
China Launches Crackdown on Plastic Bags
Ugandans Give New Life to Plastic Bags
60,000 Plastic Bags are Being Used This Second: Help Slow it Down

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