Whether it is through bans or fees, plastic bag usage around the world must go down. More needs to be done to help change our culture of convenience to one of conservation.
As the world confronts the deadly threat of climate change, more needs to be done to curb the power of plastic. Some countries have begun to charge fees for using plastic bags. Many have banned them altogether. More needs to happen, however, to truly help save the environment.
In the United States, California, Hawaii and New York have banned single-use plastic bags, with some exceptions. In Washington D.C., all businesses that sell food must charge five cents for every plastic bag. Other states only allow stores to provide them if they have a recycling container for customers to bring old bags.
Some states, such as Minnesota and Florida, have banned any regulation of plastic bags. However, these bans would be state-wide, so individual cities can still pass anti-plastic bag laws.
Countries like the United Kingdom and Colombia charge customers who use plastic bags. Many other nations have imposed partial bans on the manufacturing and distribution of single-use bags. Perhaps surprisingly to some, Africa has the most countries with partial or total bans. America is moving embarrassingly slow on plastic regulation.
Not Enough to Just Ban Bags
The United Nations Environment Programme is not just aiming to ban single-use plastic products. They are also hard at work changing how the world manages plastic waste. This includes how we recycle and environmental clean-up.
Of the estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic created since the 1950s, about 60 percent has ended up in the environment. All this waste, whether it is in a landfill or the ocean, piles up because plastic does not break down like other materials.
Plastic bags, in particular, can take up to 1,000 years to photodegrade. This means they are never fully broken down by nature. Instead, they break into smaller pieces that we must somehow clean up.
These microplastics contaminate rivers, the ocean, even our tap water. They end up as part of our diet when the fish we eat ingest the tiny, toxic bits. The world needs to work harder to clean up the environment, both for our health and the health of other animals.
Getting over the global addiction to plastic will take a long time. It will take years, and plenty of innovation, to clean up the ocean and design better plastic alternatives.
Changing the Culture
Last year, Boston joined the list of American cities that do not allow retailers to offer plastic bags. Any bag with handles now costs at least five cents. The city is encouraging its residents to bring their own bags.
Some people may not find paying five cents per bag a strong enough incentive for switching to reusable bags. Cities are having to come up with new ways to show they are environmentally friendly.
Target, as well as other stores, now sells one dollar reusable bags near their checkouts. They still offer plastic bags, but try to make their alternatives more visible. Many stores offer a small discount, typically only a few cents, for bringing in your own bags. All this is being done to make the transition easier for customers who are willing to change their habits.
One grocery store in Vancouver, Canada decided to try a new tactic in the battle against plastic: public shaming. East West Market printed embarrassing messages on their plastic bags, such as “The Colon Care Co-op.” They hoped customers would remember to bring reusable bags to avoid shame.
According to the owner, an earlier attempt to charge customers for plastic bags failed. It looks like this new method may also be unsatisfactory. Many patrons find the bags more hilarious than humiliating.
Other customers think the slogans should be more blunt. One person even suggested, “I know I’m trashing the planet but I don’t care,” as a new message.
Still, no matter what approach a city or store uses, the most important thing is to make society aware of the issue. That is what those cringeworthy bags in Canada are doing. Community leaders need to explain why they chose a fee over a ban. Citizens must be informed about the dangers of plastic.
While there should be no public shaming of those who take plastic bags, everyone should be more conscious of how much plastic they use. Banning all single-use plastic or plastic altogether is not going to stop climate change. But that does not make it any less important.
The hardest part of any plastic legislation is getting the people to support it. There are those who will not want to change their habits or may feel like they cannot survive without plastic bags and packaging.
Of course, I am not advocating for people to start making their own toothpaste. The way the world will move past plastic will be through slow lifestyle changes. Whether these changes are forced by law or simply by public awareness, they need to happen. We will have to sacrifice personal convenience for the health of the planet.
Being more environmentally friendly will have a strong, positive impact on every living creature’s life, from whales to humans. Maybe leave a fabric bag in your car for unexpected grocery trips or grow cherry tomatoes to avoid the plastic packaging. Just try something. For all you know, that small lifestyle change may inspire you to make another and another.