Sunday, January 13, 2008

Plastic Bag Wars

I was going to title this one "ban all plastic bags" but after researching it a little, I think we can do many other things to reduce the number of plastic bags in the area. You probably already know that we use over 100 billion plastic grocery bags a year and that all those are not good for the landfills or blowing away in the environment. In fact, much of the blowing litter is plastic bags, with their amazing ability to be able to fly long distances. When the Guadeloupe River flooded downstream of Canyon Lake several years ago, you could tell the flood mark because of all the plastic bags stuck in the trees.

Plastic bags take thousands of years to decompose and are made from crude oil. Being in a maritime area, they also are a hazard for animals such as sea turtles ... I won't be graphic here but after last year's sea turtle rescue, I happen to know in intimate detail that they ate a bunch of plastic bags.

Many towns and cities have considered outright bans on plastic bags, although it should be said that those that oppose a ban have some very good points. Making paper bags involves more paper mill pollution than making a plastic one, and the plastic ones cost about one cent as opposed to five cents or more for paper. Plastic bags are very easy to recycle, although at best only one percent are ever turned in, even in areas with a three-cent rebate.

However, places where they started charging people for plastic bags caused a huge drop-off in their use, usually 60 to 90 percent. People all the sudden get religion when they find out each plastic bag might cost an extra 20 cents each, similar to the "Plas-Tax" in Ireland. The grocers even loved the idea because they didn't have to lose money on paper bags.

This might seem to be a foreign idea for our area, and even for it to work one would need to catch the stores in Port Isabel as well. But think of it, most of the bags come from three places: Wal-Mart, HEB, and the Blue Marlin. We can always work with the smaller convenience stores such as seeing if the Stripes stores would provide paper bags (a similar approach was used to help lower glass beer bottles on the beach last year). But my proposal is to have the "Big Three" charge for plastic because they dispense millions them a year.

Let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

did you see this about some research into plastic bags and turtles?

Anonymous said...

Anything that will reduce the number of plastic bags produced is a good idea. Recycling plastic bags is kind of beside the point. A lot of pollution is created in the manufacture of plastic bags, before the bags have ever been used. And recycling them doesn't reduce the amount of bags produced using virgin plastic because most of them will be recycled into products other than plastic bags, like outdoor furniture, decking, and carpets. That's why the plastics industry is in favor of recycling.

As far as what Anonymous posted about the bags and turtles, the color of the bag only solves part of the problem of plastic bags in the ocean. Maybe the sea turtles will not eat them. But plastic floating in the ocean attracts pollutants and concentrates them. Plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they don't biodegrade. So these tiny polluted plastic particles enter the food chain when they are consumed by animals at the lowest end.

The best thing we can do is get away from plastics as much as possible. Please check out my blog for a list of ways we can all reduce our plastic waste and plastic consumption, beyond giving up plastic bags and plastic water bottles.


Lucinda said...

Sam, I think charging for the bags at "the big three" is an excellent idea. How do we convince them?