Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ban on Plastic Bags Gains Momentum

By Christina Herman,former JPIC staff, now working with ICCR.

Over 20 million Americans live in communities that have banned or put a fee on the use of plastic bags, in an effort to reduce their use and the pollution that accompanies them.

In Laredo, Texas, Missionary Oblate Fr. Bill Davis, OMI has actively supported the local environmental group that worked successfully to get a bag ban through the City Council. The ban that went into effect on April 30th is expected to help reduce the unsightly and unhealthy litter of the light-weight bags in the area.

In Europe, the 28 EU member states gave their final approval to new rules regarding plastic bags in February, which are to reduce the use of flimsy plastic bags by 80 percent by 2025. Member states have flexibility on how to achieve this goal – they can ban them or discourage their use through a tax.

In January 2014, Los Angeles instituted a ban on the distribution of plastic bags at the checkout counter of big retailers, making it the largest of the 132 cities and counties around the U.S. with anti-plastic bag legislation. City Councils from Washington, DC to Chicago, IL to Portland, Oregon have banned or taxed plastic bags successfully.

Currently 100 billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year—almost one bag per person each day. Laid end-to-end, they could circle the equator 1,330 times. The popularity of plastic grocery bags stems from their light weight and their perceived low cost, but it is these very qualities that make them unpleasant, difficult and expensive to manage. 

In landfills and waterways, plastic is persistent, lasting for hundreds of years, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces and leaching out chemical components as it ages. It never fully disappears though. Recent studies have shown that plastic from discarded bags actually soaks up additional pollutants like pesticides and industrial waste that are in the ocean and delivers them in large doses to sea life. The harmful substances then can move up the food chain to the food people eat.

While now ubiquitous, the plastic bag has only been around since 1962. Invented in Sweden, plastic bags were popularized by Mobil Oil in the 1970s in an attempt to increase its market for polyethylene, a fossil-fuel-derived compound. Their production is also energy intensive: The amount of energy required to make 12 plastic bags could drive a car for a mile.

A throw-away society is not sustainable. Moving from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is common sense. The experience of people in areas that have banned or restricted plastic bags is that people adjust quickly to carrying cloth or other durable bags with them to stores and streets and waterways are cleaner and safer. Bag bans have actually spawned job growth at facilities that produce better alternatives. Forty years ago there were no plastic grocery bags; four years from now, we’ll forget there ever were.