Plastic Bag Ban

I was at Whole Foods the other day (buying a few sweet potatoes when I apparently really wanted yams, all very off topic but nonetheless frustrating) when I heard the guy in front of me complain to the cashier that charging ten cents for a carryout bag for his purchase was “highway robbery.” He was probably unaware that the city of Santa Monica, California now has a single-use carryout ban on plastic bags, and requires merchants to charge $0.10 apiece for paper bags.

When it was my turn I told that same cashier that I fully supported the bag ban and he informed me that it’s definitely changing people’s behavior (and not just by making them ruder, presumably). I was not surprised, since of course, this is the entire point of the ban. British retailer Marks & Spencer started charging for their plastic bags in 2008, and within ten weeks they were handing out 80% fewer bags. Similarly dramatic drops have been seen under the same conditions in China and San Francisco.

Why are plastic bags a problem? Producing them on this global scale is a massive waste of energy. An Australian study concluded in 2002 that “a year’s worth of weekly grocery trips, at 10 bags a trip, would result in embedded energy consumption of 210 megajoules—the equivalent of 1.75 gallons (6.6 liters) of gasoline, and emissions of 13 pounds (6.06 kilograms) of CO2.” [from National Geographic]

Plastic bags are also a big threat to marine wildlife. Animals get entangled in them; sea turtles eat them, mistaking them for jellyfish. Since they can’t digest them, there’s less room in their stomachs for actual food and they can starve to death.

I have been bringing my own bags to retailers for years, and, honestly, I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal to get everyone to do it. It’s not like the world hasn’t spent over a decade giving you those free reusable bags which are no doubt stuffed in the trunk of your car or somewhere in the back of your kitchen cabinets. Either way, please don’t take it out on the cashiers!

Happy Thanksgiving!

1 Comment

  1. Alix says:

    I’d never ask for paper bags at the grocery store if it weren’t for the fact that my town requests that paper recyclables be PUT in paper bags (the bin, apparently, unable to shoulder the burden itself). And our Public Works department gets ticked off pretty easily, so I usually comply. Grudgingly.

Leave a Reply