Banning plastic bags has become increasing popular throughout the country as concern about the environment grows. According to Livestrong as of 2010, there were somewhere between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags in use around the world.
Takes 400 years for plastic bag to biodegrade
Plastic bags are made from crude oil. According to the Natural Environment website, 60 to 100 million barrels of oil are required to manufacture a year’s worth of plastic bags. Plastic bags are not readily biodegradable, and estimates are that it takes 400 years before a plastic bag biodegrades.
There’s no denying it. Single-use disposable plastic bags are suffocating the planet, with 60,000 plastic bags being consumed in the U.S. every 5 seconds. They are made using non-renewable resources, either petroleum or natural gas. They take huge amounts of energy to manufacture, transport across the country, and recycle. — One Green Planet
California ban put on hold
In late 2014 California became the first state in the U.S. to issue a statewide ban on plastic bags. The plastic industry and bag manufacturers opposed the measure and in early 2015 obtained enough signatures to put a measure repealing the ban on the California state ballot in November 2016. The implementation of the ban was put on hold pending the outcome of the November vote.
If the voters approve Proposition 67, the 2014 ban will come into effect. Stores would be permitted to sell paper bags at a minimum price of 10 cents. For many Californians, there will be no change as 150 of the nearly 500 municipalities in the state have already banned plastic bags. However, the laws vary from community to community and are confusing.
Opposition to banning
Over the past two years, state legislatures have been active in proposing laws to regulate the use of plastic bags but have run into opposition. The majority of statewide efforts to legislatively ban plastic bags have been unsuccessful. There has been more success where individual municipalities have proposed bans.
So who is opposed to banning plastic bags? The prominent opponent is the plastic bag industry, and they are active in lobbying efforts to protect their business. But there are other groups that have raised objections to plastic bag bans, arguing that the adverse effects on the environment are overstated, and the alternatives are not all that much better.
But advocates of these laws and journalists who cover the issue often neglect to ask what will replace plastic bags and what the environmental impact of that replacement will be. People still need bags to bring home their groceries. And the most common substitute, paper bags, may be just as bad or worse, depending on the environmental problem you’re most concerned about. — Wired
Many advocate for reusable bags which has been the norm in Europe for a number of years. However, the most common non-paper bag is made from cotton. An Australian government study noted that “a cotton bag has major environmental impacts of its own.”
Polls on banning have mixed results
Many of the proposed bills banning plastic bags allow for stores to charge a fee for providing substitute bags whereas plastic bags are generally free. It is argued that these charges will unfairly impact the poor.
In California, a USC/LA Times poll showed statewide support for banning plastic bags at 59% with only 34% opposed. However, a nationwide Rasmussen Report poll in 2014 stated that only 36% of Americans favor a ban in their community while 45% are opposed to bans.
The argument is likely to continue for years to come although the outcome of the vote in California may be instrumental in setting the tone of the discussion.