Currently several cities in the US are examining the possibility of implementing a plastic bag ban. Disposable plastic bags have been an issue that has been under increased scrutiny because of the environmental impact of consumers not reusing the bags.
Aspen, Colo. is having a meeting this week to discuss the issue. Originally the plan was to impose a 20 cents per bag charge to the consumer at time of checkout, however now the city is seeking to explore an all-out ban on disposable grocery bags.
The Aspen Times reports, “This ordinance has the potential to eliminate a large percentage of plastic bags from Aspen's environment, while also reducing the amount of single-use paper shopping bags that are used and thrown away by 50-80 percent, thus … benefiting Aspen's and the global environment,” said environmental health specialist Ashley Cantrell in a recent memo to the council."
Boulder, Colo., is another state looking to potentially charge or eradicate the use of plastic shopping bags. The Daily Camera reports that a group of middle and high school students is leading this lobby.
In Newport, Ore., the City Council will be holding a public forum in the near future to consider the issue of plastic bags. Supporters of the ban say the goal is to promote reusable bags.
King County, Wash., has another approach. Rather than impose fees on bags or approve a ban on plastic grocery bags, the county has initiated "Bag your Bags, Brig 'em Back" campaign. This campaign, as described by local media, The Reporter, explains that educating people on how to recycle bags, through consolidation of bags into one bag, helps efficiency in recycling.
The Reporter account states, "Nearly 50,000 tons of recyclable plastic bags and plastic wrap ended up in King County’s Cedar Hills Landfill last year, and this program helps us put those bags where they belong. More kinds of plastic bags than ever before are now accepted by store collection programs. Types of plastic bags and wrap you can bring in for recycling include: grocery bags; bread bags; produce bags; wrap for products such as paper towels and toilet paper; bubble wrap; dry cleaning bags; newspaper bags; and shrink wrap."
In recent years many merchants have been trying to steer consumers away from using disposable bags and promote 'environmentally friendly' bags which can be reused again and again. The drawbacks for consumers is that they have to pay for each these bags, often costing anywhere from .99 to 1.99 on average, and some these bags aren't so sturdy and do not last long. Another concern is that the energy used to create the bags is not environmentally friendly enough, depending upon how often the bags are used before the consumer discards them; a question arises if whether or not the benefits are worth the costs.
Other potential issues associated with reusable bags are related to health concerns. Last year a study at Arizona University looked at the incidences of bacteria being spread through reusable grocery bags, and the study concluded environmentally friendly reusable shopping bags might be dangerous to health.
Researchers at the Arizona facility partnered with Loma Linda University in California and tested 84 bags collected from three regions: Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the study's findings, over half of the bags were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria. They also reported 12 percent of the bags contained E.coli; additionally samples of fecal coliform bacteria were found.
There was controversy with this study because the funding associated with the study. The organization who funded that study, American Chemistry Council, represents plastics manufacturers and contributed $30,000. One of the co-authors of the study, Charles Gerba, said he was not trying to scare consumers, but wanted to bring awareness of the possibility of cross contamination of bacteria and warned consumers should wash their bags.
Other drawbacks associated with reusable bags are the presence of lead according to a separate study, which could have serious effects on people's health and also result in problematic environmental factors.
It is clear there are differing opinions on this issue, but one thing is certain. Where plastic bags are concerned, this is an issue that is not going to go away any time soon and is not limited to the U.S. Digital Journal recently reported that Wales implemented a 5 pence charge per carrier bag.
Excessive waste is a serious environmental issue, but when it comes to bans and charges on disposable bags, other residual issues come into affect too. How different cities decide is the best approach to combat waste may vary.