It’s estimated that 500 billion to a trillion plastic bags are used per year. Some of those bags make their way into landfills, while others contribute to the 8 million metric tons of plastic that end up in the world’s oceans.
The Impact of Plastic Bags
These discarded plastic bags can severely harm or kill wildlife including 260 marine species, such as turtles and fish, as they end up eating or getting entangled in the stuff.
Further, plastic bags don’t biodegrade. Instead, they break up into smaller and smaller pieces through the process of photodegrading. How long this takes is unknown, as plastic bags have only been in existence for 50-odd years. Some scientists say plastic bags have a 500-year lifespan, while others say its more like 1,000.
Who’s Banning Plastic Bags?
Many cities, states and countries are making moves to curb the use of these disposable synthetic sacks. They’re doing this through fees or outright bans on plastic bags in the hope of limiting the waste sent to landfills and ending up in oceans.
Some people oppose the ban or inclusion of plastic bag levies, saying their alternative, reusable bags, comes with a set of problems. It’s thought that reusable bags can potentially increase health problems, as bacteria may remain in reusable bags and cause food contamination.
California became the very first state in the U.S. to ratify a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in all large retailers.
The legislation also created a 10-cent charge minimum for any recycled paper bags, reusable plastic bags, and compostable bags. An attempt to repeal the ban was successful, and now a referendum to on the statewide ban is set for a November 2016 ballot.
Although the state couldn’t manage a ban on plastic bags, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco have. Other U.S. cities that have instated plastic bags bans are Austin, Seattle and Chicago, while other cities have established fees for plastic bag usage, including New York City, Boulder and Portland.
Although the U.K. hasn’t outright banned the plastic bag, they have put a levy on them just last year. It’s five pence per plastic bag — that’s about seven cents USD. Although that may not sound like much of a fee, it was enough to dissuade shoppers from using the plastic items.
Since the rule came into effect last October, 640 million plastic bags were used in seven of England’s larger supermarkets in England, which might seem like a lot, but if the trend keeps up for the rest of the year, it will be an 83 percent drop in plastic bag consumption.
This mirrors the trend seen in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. A levy was introduced in Wales back in 2011, then in Northern Ireland in 2013 and then the following year in Scotland. Across those regions, a decrease of 76%, 71% and 80% were seen in bag use respectively in the first year.
The Result of Plastic Bag Bans or Fees
With each and every one of these added fees or bans, the consumption of plastic bags has decreased. This reduction translates into less waste needing to be dealt with, which lessens the cost to taxpayers. It also means there’s fewer slowly degrading over 500-1,000 years in landfills or oceans. This means fewer species of wildlife are coming into contact with the materials.
And in addition to all that, the money generated by plastic bag levies adds up to a substantial sum. The funds generated can and have been donated to various causes, including environmental, education, health, artistic and charity groups.
Adding a fee for the use of a plastic bag is a way for consumers to become aware and conscious of their decisions. The fee is small, even insignificant to many, but it flags the choice being made. It calls attention to the use of the resource and gives the shopper a chance to consider what their next move will be.