“Paper or BYOB?”

9 Jun 2010

Photo Credit: jonathan.youngblood/Flickr

Last week the California State Assembly passed a bill that would ban grocery stores across the state from giving out single-use plastic grocery bags. Shoppers instead would have to bring reusable bags to the store or pay at least 5 cents each for recycled paper bag at the checkout counter. Governor Schwarzenegger indicated that he would sign the bill if it passes the Senate as expected.

The goal, obviously, is to get rid of unsightly disposable plastic bags that often end up in trees, rivers and the oceans, most notably, contributing to the Pacific Gyre.  Californians reportedly use a staggering 19 billion single-use plastic grocery bags a year, or 552 per person. Most expect that charging a nominal fee for each bag will likely reduce those numbers by a huge amount (Washington DC instituted a similar law on January 1st, and the DC Office of Tax and Revenue estimated monthly bag usage dropped from approximately 22.5 million to 3 million).

Although California would be the first U.S. State to pass such a ban, cities and countries around the world have already instituted similar restrictions on plastic bags (San Francisco, Mexico City, and China to name a few). My guess is that it is only a matter of time before other States follow suit.

The ban, however, is not without debate. This topic has people really fired up. There are practical questions: “What will we use for picking up after our dogs on the sidewalk?” “What will college kids line their trash cans with?” There are scientific questions: “Don’t paper bags actually cause more environmental stress than plastic bags (much more energy-intensive manufacturing process, impact on forests, pollution resulting from paper mills, etc.)?” “Isn’t it true that plastic bags kill hundreds of thousands of marine animals and seabirds every year?” Then there are political questions: “Should consumers bear a tax in order to help protect the environment?” “In this economy, is charging people for a bag really a good idea?”

Certainly there are pros and cons, but I generally think it is a smart move to reduce the number of plastic bags since they are rarely recycled. Heck, maybe it would even raise a little money for the State. Where do you stand on the debate?

Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply