The plastic bag ban isn’t perfect, but it’s a necessary sacrifice
Climate alarm bells are ringing, and in the cacophony it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the necessary work ahead of us. There is waste to reduce, there is water to save and there are emissions to reduce â all at scale. And many of the most significant societal changes will require us to make sacrifices – to our eating habits, our consumption and our convenience. Fortunately, one relatively minor convenience sacrifice has the potential to have a big impact: getting rid of single-use plastic bags.
The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, signed into law last summer, is phasing out single-use plastic bags, polystyrene cups and containers and overturning a law that prohibits municipalities from passing individual ordinances to tackle plastic waste. Colorado has become the 10th state to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and the eighth to ban foam food containers.
In a statement of the passing of the billRandy Moorman, Eco-Cycle’s Director of Legislative and Community Campaigns, said, “Colorado’s new law helps us enact systemic change to turn off the tap and stem the tide of plastic consumption, especially unnecessary plastic items like single-use bags and polystyrene. take-out containers.
But before the ban arrives in 2024, the law will implement a statewide baggage tax, similar to the one Boulder instituted a decade ago. Studies and data, however, have poked significant holes in single-use plastic bag bans and bag fees, paving the way for critics to quibble about their effectiveness.
According to data collected by the City of Boulder, since implementing the city’s bag fee, bag usage has remained at a relatively constant level with approximately 4-4.5 million bags used each year. And the fee, which can be used in a restricted way since it’s not technically a tax, is pretty paltry, around $60,000 per quarter. This means that the fee has not significantly reduced Boulder’s bag usage, nor created a revenue stream that could be used for constructive environmental purposes.
Raising fees, however, is â and should remain â out of the question. As council member Mark Wallach said, âFor wealthy people, it’s a rounding error. For people who aren’t, it gets a little heavier. And in a time of rampant inflation and record housing prices, who wants anyone more burdened? (It should be noted that Boulder has a bag fee waiver for shoppers on food assistance.)
Essentially, Boulder’s sack fee is a sin tax that does not sufficiently reduce our propensity to sin.
Thus arises the need to completely ban single-use plastic bags, even if this solution is plagued with its own problems. An analysis of paper bags found that the heavy use of toxic chemicals in the paper bag production process resulted in 70 times more air pollution and 50 times more water pollution than producing a plastic bag. Studies have also shown that reusable cotton bags should be used hundreds Where thousands times to have a lower carbon footprint than a single-use plastic bag.
Banning single-use plastic bags is therefore like so many sacrifices we must be prepared to make to truly stop the deterioration of our planet: far from perfect. Rarely is one choice over another so clearly eco-friendly as riding a bike rather than driving a car. Most choices made in the service of the environment require a trade-off. It takes time and energy to recycle and compost and, even when done correctly, not everything we put into recycling actually gets recycled, but recycling is always worth the effort. Electric vehicles have batteries that are difficult to produce and recycle, and their range prevents them from being as modal as a gas guzzler, but they too are worth the compromises.
Plastic bag bans have equally complicated trade-offs. But the fact remains that plastic bags are a scourge and something must be done about them. According to advocacy group Beyond Plastics, a plastic bag can last more than 500 years but is usually only used for 12 minutes. Ninety-one percent of the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use each year will not be recycled, but their production will require 12 million barrels of oil. And, according to one demonstration, 130 plastic manufacturing plants in the United States emit at least 114 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
After taking stock of this record – the environmental death of 100 billion single-use cups – it is difficult to argue in favor of the plastic bag. Yes, plastic bags are practical. But they’re convenient because we’ve been conditioned to expect such simple conveniences without questioning the cost – the cost of 10 cents and the cost of the hundreds of billions of bags that litter our roads and clog our recycling machines and choke our oceans.
Of course, learning to live without plastic bags and learning to accept and pass legislation that helps curb destructive consumption is not limited to plastic bags. Ideally, we should move away from all single-use plastics, and eventually plastics in general. (After all, plastics have only really been around for half a century; surely we can live without them again.)
More broadly, however, bag bans should be seen as another step towards a more resilient future. One where we give up simple (and often ruinous) conveniences in favor of deliberate consumption. We need to learn to look at the produce and food in front of us and appreciate the resources and labor that go into it, so that we can all better recognize the value of individual sacrifice – reusing that trusty cotton tote a thousand times, replace our resource-intensive lawntake the bus when it’s no longer free â which we must do in the name of a collective good.
âGary Garrison for the Editorial Board