By Linda Hunter
Californians seemed on the verge of joining a growing league of cities and countries around the world that have banned plastic bags. But the American Chemistry Council spent millions on a deceptive campaign to defeat AB 1998, The Plastic Bag Ban Bill, claiming that it would cost California jobs and that we should instead focus on recycling plastic bags.
In truth, plastic bag recycling is simply not happening. Fewer than 2% of plastic bags are actually recycled because it’s not a viable business option. The recycling argument appears to be just another of the many greenwashing claims put forth by industry lobbyists.
In order to be recycled, plastic bags first need to be sorted, cleaned, and the contaminants from inks must be addressed. On top of that, the low quality of the plastic used in single-use bags make them completely undesirable to recyclers who would rather focus the vast quantities of easily recyclable materials such aluminum and glass.
According to Jared Blumenfeld, former director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment and now the Region 9 Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle one ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for a measly $32.
What really happens to the bags that the American Chemistry Council says can be recycled? Many are shipped to countries like India and China where they are incinerated under more lax environmental laws. Ironically, China and some cities and states in India have banned plastic bags because of their ability to cause floods by clogging storm drains.
Let’s face it–plastic bags are terrible for the environment and completely unnecessary. The latest efforts by the plastic bag industry to hide this truth have fired up cities and counties all over California to institute their own plastic bag bans. San Francisco enacted the nation’s first ban on plastic bags at grocery and drug stores in 2007. Other bag-banning California cities include Palo Alto, Fairfax, and Los Angeles. In fact, the growing trend for outright bans is happening all over the world.
In 1989, Italy took a look around its beaches and saw plastic bags cluttering the scenery and choking dolphins. To help clear up the mess, the Italian government began taxing plastic bags, and next year it will institute an all-out ban on them. After bag-clogged drains led to prolonged flooding in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1988 and 1998, the government banished disposable plastic bags from the city in 2002. Ireland became the first European nation to tackle the plastic-bag problem. It imposed a 15-cent PlasTax, revolutionizing the Irish shopping scene with reusable sacks and reducing the use of flimsy plastic ones by 90 percent within weeks.
In South Africa, plastic bags were such a ubiquitous scourge that they became known as the “national flower” until the nation banned them in 2003. Eritrea, Rwanda, and Somalia followed suit in 2005, and Tanzania in 2006.
In Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Mathaai blamed plastic bags for helping to spread malaria because discarded bags can fill with rainwater and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Her country banned thin plastic bags in 2007 and imposed fines on thicker ones. Uganda followed Kenya’s lead.
South Australia hopped on the “ban” wagon this year, threatening fines of up to $5,000 for stores that don’t comply. American Samoa banned plastic bags on the same day that California policy makers caved in to industry lobbyists.
So, it’s evident that the plastic bag ban movement is moving full speed ahead. In the meantime, the plastic bag industry is concealing the true effects of plastic bags on the environment, while encouraging people to participate in coastal cleanups through their deceptively eco-friendly websites like Marine Debris Solutions. If plastic bag lobbyists really wanted to stop harming the environment and killing marine life, they would change with the times rather than invite us to clean up their mess.
Photo credits: iStockphoto, Daily Mail, New York Times.