Kick The Sick Habit: Bay Versus Bag

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Nice video from Save The Bay. It’s the latest in their campaign to reduce plastic bag pollution in San Francisco Bay Area. You know, the endless crap that traps wildlife and never biodegrades and breeds like rabbits because we insist on accepting a new one of the evil airborne, waterborne immortals every time we buy any little thing.

Did you know the average plastic bag has a use-time of 12 minutes?

California taxpayers spend approximately $25 million every year to collect and landfill plastic bags. San Jose City staff estimates that it costs at least $3 million annually to clean plastic bags from creeks and clogged storm drains. Single-use bag production depletes resources and contributes to carbon emissions and global warming. We consume 14 million trees  and 12 million barrels of oil to produce the billions of plastic and paper bags we throw away in the United States every year. 

Save The Bay is trying to get Bay Area cities to charge 25 cents on paper and plastic bags from all retailers. Hopefully that’ll encourage more people to use less plastic and pony up for durable reusables.

Accompanying the video, a few busted myths:

Myth: Recycling plastic bags is the best solution to the litter problem
Fact: Plastic bag recycling is expensive and doesn’t work

Despite a 15-year effort in California, recycling plastic bags has failed. Less than 5 percent of all single-use plastic bags are actually recycled. Plastic bags cost municipal recycling programs millions each year because bags jam sorting equipment. The frak ups cost San Jose about $1 million a year. Failed recycling means billions of plastic bags are thrown away to blow onto streets and float into waterways.

Myth: Recycled plastic bags are a valuable commodity
Fact: The market for recycled plastic bags is small and unstable

Only one manufacturer purchases 70 percent of plastic bags recovered nationwide. They make outdoor decking. Newsweek reported the company lost $75 million in 2007. Will it survive? Who knows. Meanwhile, some curbside programs take plastic bags if they’re bundled but the commodity is low grade and brings a low price and even the plastic bag industry won’t use its own post-consumer material.

Myth: Bans or fees on plastic bags push people to use more paper bags
Fact: Well-designed policies get consumers to switch to reusable cloth bags

The legislation supported by Save The Bay covers all single-use bags, paper and plastic. This decreases the use of both kinds of bags in favor of inexpensive reusables.

Myth: A fee on plastic bags didn’t work in Ireland
Fact:  Ireland’s bag fee dramatically reduced plastic bag usage and plastic bag litter

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency submitted a letter to the San Jose City Council rebutting the American Chemistry Council’s false claims about Ireland’s bag fee. Ireland confirms that plastic bag litter dropped by 93 percent and plastic bag use decreased by ~90 percent the year following the Plastic Bag Levy. 

Myth:  Fees on single use bags will negatively impact low income people
Fact:  No one has to pay the fee

A single-use bag fee is only charged if you do not bring your own bag. Lower income communities are some of the most blighted by plastic bag litter and are already paying for plastic bags through city taxes and increased food and retail prices. Every bag-fee policy currently under consideration at local and state levels would either subsidize reusables for low-income people or exempt low-income residents from paying the fees. 

Myth:  Single-use bag bans or fees are bad policy during an economic crisis
Fact:  Reducing the use of single-use plastic and paper bags will save us all money

Retailers currently embed 2 to 5 cents per plastic bag and 5 to 23 cents per paper bag in the price of goods—adding $30 or more per person annually in hidden costs. Many grocers offer a 5-cent rebate for bringing your own bag, which can add up to about $60 in savings per year for an average family.

Myth: Plastic bag litter isn’t really a problem for the environment
Fact: 1.37 million plastic bags were removed from coastal areas worldwide in one day last year

Plastic trash entangles, suffocates, and poisons at least 267 animal species worldwide.   According to the California Coastal Commission, up to 80 percent of all marine debris is plastic, which never biodegrades.  Plastic bags were the second largest item of litter picked up by volunteers during the Ocean Conservancy’s 2008 International Coastal Cleanup Day.   It is estimated that one million plastic bags pollute the Bay every year.  Scientists recently measured 334,271 pieces of plastic per square mile in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Myth: Education about responsible use and disposal of plastic bags will reduce litter
Fact: Unfortunately, public education hasn’t worked, despite massive public investment

Huge amounts of money have been spent on public education about litter. One example is CalTrans’ “Don’t Trash California” campaign.  Yet, we still see filthy highways.

Let’s face it, if disposable bags weren’t available, we wouldn’t use them.


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