Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Plastic Bag Problem

AB1998, The Single-Use Bag Reduction Act, was a bill that proposed banning plastic bags in California. It was rejected by the state Senate in Sacramento on August 31st. The bill was sponsored by Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based (Los Angeles) nonprofit. The bill's main opponent was the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, which spent millions in lobbying fees and advertising to attack the measure. The American Chemistry Council represents plastic bag manufacturers such as Dow Chemical Co. and ExxonMobil Corp.

Proponents of the bill claimed that efforts to collect and dispose of the single-use plastic bags and cleaning them from gutters and public lands cost Californians $25 million annually. The ban was to to take effect in 2012 for large stores and supermarkets. It would have applied to smaller stores in 2013. It is estimated that Californians use 19 billion plastic bags a year.

Currently several Californian cities, including Palo Alto, Malibu, San Francisco, and Fairfax, have implemented bans on plastic shopping bags, eliminating them as as option at major grocery stores. Tim Shestek, the senior director of state affairs for American Chemistry Council, stated, “We congratulate Senate members for discarding a costly bill that provides no real solutions to California's litter problem and would have further jeopardized California's already strained economy.” This response seems illogical, however, since by eliminating the production of single-use plastic bags, California could have potentially removed 19 billion pieces of litter. It seems contradictory that opponents claimed the bill would have cost Californians jobs, yet we pay exorbitant taxes to help clean the bags up and transport them to landfills. Recycling the bags is very difficult and time consuming for recycling facilities, resulting in only a 5% recycled success rate. Plus, it’s more cost-effective for plastic bag manufacturers to purchase the raw materials than to buy recycled bags.

Of course, in a recession, no one wants to sacrifice their job in the name of being environmentally concious or eco-friendly. However, at some point, the economic and environmental costs will become more apparent to the average tax payer. These plastic bags don’t just litter our streets, but get out into the ocean, contributing the the massive floating landfill out in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This mass of trash disrupts the ocean ecology and kills marine life and birds.

Needless to say, plastic bags are environmentally unsound, however, they are useful and ubiquitous in the modern world. Could you live without plastic bags? What do you think of the government banning them?

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