Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Plastic Shopping Bags Must Go! (But Not To The Landfill)

One of the most powerful symbols of our wasteful lifestyle is the plastic shopping bag. It's made from non-renewable fossil fuels, is non-biodegradable, and is typically produced to be used once ... then tossed out.

The vast majority of our country's 6 billion plastic bags end up in landfills — or worse yet, littering streets, clogging natural ecosystems, spreading chemicals and posing a threat to the health of humans and wildlife.

Last year, thanks to legislation sponsored by progressive supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, our hometown of San Francisco became the first major city in the country to ban grocery stores from using plastic bags. The landmark law requires all retailers with revenue over $2 million to provide only compostable or reusable bags. 28 Cities in the U.S. have proposed laws restricting the use of plastic bags, and many more around the world have already done so. The City's ban will extend to chain drug stores next week, but it does not extend to events and promotions.

Inexpensive custom-branded plastic bags have been a convention business staple for decades and are ubiquitous in the promotional marketing industry. But now many more responsible and reusable promotional bag choices are available — including recycled paper, cloth, biodegradable plastic, and recycled eco-spun PET bags. (Today we delivered 4,500 beautiful recycled cotton and soda bottle fabric tote bags to promote a city recycling program here in the Bay Area.)

Public opinion has been somewhat mixed on San Francisco's bag ban. Neighboring Oakland put a similar ban on hold last month to further study the issue. Opponents say plastic bags can be reused for things like trash bin liners, or to pick up pet poop — but most municipalities don't allow you to recycle them and ultimately, to the landfill they go.

Having done extensive research on the negative impacts of plastics, we support the ban. Plastic has many wonderful uses, but throw-away bags aren't one of them. It's not just the problem of plastic accumulating in our landfills and our ecosystems, but how plastic and related chemicals are accumulating in our own bodies.

In addition to bans, we like creative ideas such as small discounts or credits offered to people who reuse bags at retail, or "taxes" on people who don't. Our local coffee shop discounts our coffee 30 cents because we bring in our own mug. The same incentives can work for bags. In 2002, for example, Ireland implemented a 15 cent plastic bag tax which has been credited with reducing the use of plastic bags by a staggering 90 percent.

To learn more about plastics, and how our oceans are becoming the world's biggest "landfill" check this out from How Stuff Works.