Monday, June 28, 2010

Ban the Bag: California moves toward eliminating single-use plastic shopping bags

Plastic bags - in particular, the flimsy grocery store variety - have become the target of a wave of anti-bag fervor as more and more people become aware of plastic bags as an unsightly blight, a pollutant, and a threat to ocean sealife. In several California cities, the bags have been banned from use and now there is legislation moving forward that would eliminate the plastic grocery bags statewide.

First introduced in February by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, AB 1998 passed the Assembly and is headed for the Senate Environmental Quality Committee for review before moving to the Senate for a vote. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has expressed interest in signing it. The bill currently provides for the elimination of the single-use plastic shopping bag and a 5-cent charge to the shopper for each paper bag used (a concession to the grocers as paper bags cost more than the plastic variety).

The single-use plastic shopping bag has become the dark iconic symbol of our growing plastic pollution problem. It is a very visible component of the ocean's plastic pollution problem, exemplified by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it must take its place in the ocean with a long list of other plastic items that break down into micro-particles that leach chemicals into the water and disrupt the fundamental food chain when ingested by embryonic sealife all the way to adult animals. Many plastics are supposedly "biodegradable" but do so only in the right set of conditions - circumstances that often don't exist in reality. So, to "ban the bag" is a step in the right direction, but only a step.

Without the single-use shopping bag, we still must be mindful of these:
  • Eliminate or recycle as much plastic as possible. Or turn it over to recycling centers so that it doesn't end up in landfills where little if any biodegrading takes place.
  • Use paper bags instead of plastic. I've been saying "Paper, please," in my local supermarket for years. But be sure to recycle or dispose of properly - remember, landfills have been dug up only to find 50-year old newsprint intact and readable.
  • Use reusable shopping bags, typically made of canvas or burlap. But be sure to occasionally disinfect them as they can have trace moisture from meat products that can produce bacteria which can be later transferred to other perishables like fruits and vegetables.
Read LA Times article about AB 1998.

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