Just say no to plastic bags!
If China can do it, why can't we?
Bustling, polluted China is banning plastic bags.
The China State Council ruled that starting June 1 all stores from supermarkets on down to tiny corner stalls will have to go plastic bag-free. This is not altruism or environmental sensibilty; China is hardly a model of clean development. With 1.3 billion residents, it is rapidly industrializing and has more than its share of smog and serious water pollution. Rather, China recognizes that plastic bags are manufactured from oil, so they consume a precious and finite resource. The country expects to save 37 million barrels of crude oil by banning them.
Free societies cannot issue edicts like the autocratic Chinese government. But many Western governments have recognized the hazards of the ubiquitous plastic bag and are acting in one way or another to curtail its use.
Six years ago Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags, at the same time conducting a public awareness campaign. (Customers now pay 33 cents per bag at the register.) Guess what? Within a couple of months, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. People began using cloth bags and other re-usable totes, keeping them on hand at home, at work and in the car. Using a plastic bag isn't illegal, but it's become unfashionable.
Some American cities, including San Francisco and New York, have begun regulating plastic bags, at least requiring retailers to recycle them. But in America, the land of the free, folks tend to resent restrictions.
With oil hovering close to $150 a barrel, we shouldn't be wasting it on bags. People ought to take a look at the outdoors, too, where plastic bags turn up in gutters, tree branches, lakes and oceans, looking hideous and sometimes harming or killing wildlife. When they decompose, they break down into toxic particles, contaminating soil and water. Paper bags aren't a good alternative; they consume trees and take more energy to make than plastic.
European-based ALDI stores have been charging for plastic bags for years, encouraging people to bring cloth bags or carry out their groceries in cardboard flats. Recently most regional chain supermarkets have conducted cloth bag campaigns, and many give a few pennies off for each cloth bag used to pack purchases. They should start charging for plastic like ALDI's and Irish stores.
Environmental research group Worldwatch reports that Americans throw away close to 100 billion plastic bags each year. That's just wrong. Let's grow up, admit that plastic bags are a problem, and do our best to phase them out.