San Jose officials are deciding this week whether to ban the ever useful plastic bag from stores in San Jose. If they did, we would officially stop contributing to the 19 billion single use plastic bags Californians carry out of the stores each year. Average time of use for a plastic bag? – 20 minutes. Time to decompose under perfect conditions? Anywhere from 500-1000 years. Most likely, every single piece of plastic created that wasn’t burned or recycled is still here on this planet. That’s a lot of plastic.
According to the article in San Jose Mercury News, ”Environmentalists and waste managers say those bags strangle sea birds, clog storm drains and paralyze recycling machines. In San Jose — particularly after a storm causes the Guadalupe River to rise and retreat — the bags can be spotted draping tree branches like unsightly jewelry.”
San Jose is considering several options, including a fee on the thin, non-biodegradable bags, a ban or a public education campaign. Wow, options? Options are good but why not implement all three or add a fourth one? Ban the non-biodegradable plastic bags, introduce biodegradable bags, charge a few pennies for a biodegradable or paper bag AND launch a public campaign. I am originally from Eastern Europe and ever since I remember, Europeans paid a few cents for a plastic bag or brought their own. No one ever even dreamed of getting a FREE plastic bag.
Here’s an interesting part though. According to the Merc, this last May, a Santa Clara County commission called on all cities here to establish a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper at most retailers by April, 2010. But you know what happened? County supervisors rejected such a move, citing concerns from shoppers, business owners and representatives of the plastics industry. Really? Concerns from shoppers? Business Owners? Or was it really the Plastic Industry that had the loudest say?
In addition, some critics of this new legislature claim that banning a plastic bags is “not the most environmentally sound thing to do”. They suggest recycling is the best option. Well, we would all agree with this wouldn’t we but there’s a little problem.
2005 EPA research shows that approximately 5.2% of all plastic bags are recycled. The number of pounds of plastic bags recovered according to plasticbagrecycling.org is a 24% increase in 2006 over that of 2005. So the good news is that while the overall number is terribly small, it is on the rise.
Let’s face it, we’re humans, we’re creatures of habit. It takes time to change habits and re-shift our thinking but it’s possible, especially when it comes to being a part of the solution bigger than ourselves. If banning plastic bags or making us pay a few extra pennies will speed up our attainment of those new habits then why not? When I was a kid my mom used to say… “Son if you don’t discipline yourself, someone else will have to do it for you.” So dear Council members of San Jose… ban, ban, ban.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, the City of San Jose voted to place a ban on all plastic and paper bags at stores.
The ban won’t go into effect until 2011 – after a lengthy environmental review of its impact. This will allow all retailers and consumers to become prepared in time. For stores who still want to offer shoppers a one-time use option, bags made from at least 40 percent recycled materials can be made available, but at a fee.
Other cities, like San Francisco, have banned plastic bags or levied a tax on them, but San Jose is the first to take action on paper ones. China’s ban on plastic bags, while not strictly adhered to, still resulted in 40 billion less bags being used and cut their petroleum use by 1.6 million tons. Yeh!
Some Additional Resources:
North America’s Plastic Recycling Journal
Here you will find general information about plastic bag recycling including what material is readily recyclable as well as a list of retailers that offer plastic bag recycling.