In recent years, governments have flirted with the idea of banning plastic bags from use by consumers at grocery stores and similar retail outlets. Relatively “green” Seattle, Washington failed to convince its voters that a tax on plastic bags (20 cents per bag) was a good idea last year. But when the Oregon Legislature convenes in January 2011, state lawmakers may be considering outlawing the use of plastic bags to carry groceries across the entire state.
What’s really at stake?
To begin with, plastic bags are made from petroleum – you know, the stuff that is floating up on Gulf Coast beaches. Even though they are cheaper to produce than paper bags, consumers rarely recycle or re-use them. Once they have served their single purpose, they take 500-1000 years to decompose. And that’s just the bags that make it to the landfill.
Plastic bags are deadly when they find their way into rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre is a man-made monstrosity, fueled by endless plastic waste that has been carried by ocean currents to an area the size of a continent. Tiny, floating pieces of plastic are mistaken by wildlife as plankton and ingested.
Oregon certainly would not be the first governmental entity to take action to cut down on plastic waste. According to a related article:
Australia, South Africa, India, China, Italy, Bangladesh and Taiwan have banned, or instituted partial bans on plastic bags to combat the serious environmental threats they pose. Ireland imposes a tax on each bag, which is another way to slow down their use (after the tax, consumers’ usage dropped 90%). In March 2007, the City of San Francisco was the first major United States city to ban plastic bags, and Oakland soon followed suit
Consider this illustrative video with some startling facts about plastic bag impacts solely in the San Francisco area:
The potential Oregon plastic bag ban has evolved from a narrower, city-wide ban proposed in the state’s major Portland metropolis. Mayor Sam Adams will be bringing a resolution to the Portland City Council requesting the Oregon Legislature to enact a new law prohibiting major grocery retailers from bagging items in plastic bags, and imposing a 5 cent surcharge on the use of paper bags. In short – consumers should be prepared to bring their own re-usable bags to the store, or pay more.
My opinion? I shop for a family of 6, and we live in Oregon. I have a stash of re-usable bags in the back of my car (probably nearing 15 or so). I bring them in when I shop, and after I unload the groceries, back into the trunk they go! Its easy, convenient, and more groceries fit in a single tote bag than a series of plastic bags, too!
Will a plastic bag ban require us to alter our habits? Of course! But I’m old enough to remember when seat belts and bicycle helmets were not required by law either. You get used to it. And it feels so much better not to be wasteful.
What do you think about the potential Oregon plastic bag ban?