California is on the verge of becoming the first state to ban plastic grocery bags. Governor Jerry Brown says he intends to sign the bag-banning law California lawmakers approved in early September. The ban will go into effect at grocery stores and pharmacies next year and extend to liquor stores and additional kinds of retailers in 2016.
In addition to making it against the law for stores to give shoppers single-use plastic bags when ringing up purchases, the new law will also require stores to charge customers 10 cents for each paper bag they get. The kinds of disposable plastic bags used for loose or perishable items like produce will still be allowed.
California’s not the first place in the world to ban plastic grocery bags. In fact, one out of three Californians live in cities and towns — including San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles — that are already plastic bag-free. So are Boulder, Chicago, Santa Fe, Seattle, Austin, and lots of other places across the country.
When Solana Beach, California (population: 13,154) banned plastic bags in 2012, it eliminated the use (and disposal) of 6.5 million bags per year. And that’s just one very small city.
Why is the movement to ban plastic bags gaining steam? After all, they are recyclable, right?
Yes and no. For one thing, most bags don’t get recycled. They might be re-used first, but they often end up in the landfill all the same. Some bags are sent to recycling. Unfortunately, according to Californians Against Waste, they tend to jam up the machines in recycling facilities, requiring extra manpower (and, thus, taxpayer dollars) to remove them.
In addition to clogging up landfills and making incinerated trash more toxic, there’s the ocean pollution that raises concerns in California and other coastal areas. When plastic bags blow into the ocean, they can look like jellyfish — a good meal for a hungry sea turtle. Only, unlike jellyfish, plastic bags are, um, less than nourishing. Plastic bags kill tens of thousands of turtles, seals, birds, and whales every year.
U.S. consumers run through about 100 billion of these bags every year. Worldwide, the total number of bags is around 1 trillion. But despite their widespread use, we don’t actually need disposable plastic bags.
When it comes to saving the planet, we know we need to follow the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. So what do we give up? Especially if we don’t want to give up anything. In fact, most of us want more, not less.
The easiest way to conserve without downsizing our lifestyles is to improve efficiency and to conserve by not wasting stuff we don’t actually need anyway. If I can have the same quality fridge, car, and washing machine but they each use half as much energy as my old ones, then I’m saving money and treading more lightly on the planet without sacrificing convenience.
Additionally, if I can “reduce” by eliminating stuff I don’t need anyway, that’s far better than giving up the stuff I really want.
What do I want? Nice clothes, good food, and gadgets, but not the bags and boxes they come in.
Packaging is used once, then tossed out — or hopefully, if possible, recycled. Plastic bags simply serve to get your goodies from the store to your door, and then their useful life is over, unless you plan to re-use them to pick up Fido’s business on your next walk.
It’s a small inconvenience to remember to bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store. Since I’m forgetful, I just store all of my canvas totes in my car and my backpack. That way, when I arrive at the store, I’ve already got them.
Let’s come together on small inconveniences, like opting for reusable bags or, at the very least, paper bags, to reduce our environmental footprint.