I recently read a short, but insightful, article surrounding the issues of bag bans. The bag industry claims that banning bags will result in job loss, negative effects to local economies, hidden taxes, and lower environmental impact compared to paper, etc. These are important issues to consider, but they really don’t address the real issue of lightweight plastic bags – litter. The crux of the bag bans are associated with littering of bags whether intentional or not. I think we have all seen these bags floating in the streets, in bushes and trees, and worse, marine environments. The bag littler looks ugly and in worse case scenarios it kills wildlife!
I think the real issue with bag bans is that we are not identifying the main problem, litter.
Yes, it is true that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly when comparing the carbon footprint, but in the whole scheme of things, should we really be pushing lightweight plastic bags over alternative bag solutions like reusable bags or heavy gauge plastics bags? When is the last time you’ve seen a cotton reusable bag hanging in a tree? You don’t! They are much too heavy and they would end up going to the landfill, just like most of the other plastic packaging that comes with products we purchase.
Who is to blame for this problem? Can we change human behavior? What can be done to improve processes so that bags are not the problem? If there was a value to bags, like aluminum cans, would this result in a different outcome? A recent study titled: “Plastic Film and Bag Recycling Collection: National Reach Study” found that over 91% of U.S. residents have access to bag recycling facilities, but consumers are not utilizing them. Is bag recycling just too inconvenient? Not profitable enough for the recyclers? These are all questions we have asked to try to solve this problem, but perhaps there is a bigger question that we should be asking ourselves: Are there applications that we should not utilize plastic in?
If we zoom out of the minutia and look at the overall problem, human behavior is at the cause of all of these issues. But, maybe we can’t change human behavior. Maybe there are some plastic applications, such as bags, that we as humans should say, “let’s just get rid of them, because we aren’t able to solve the problem -other than to ban them”?
This blog is not going to solve the problem or answer the question “to ban or not to ban”, but to bring up the questions that we should be asking ourselves. Maybe we should be ok with banning certain applications of plastics, if they are resulting in damage to our environment. But, that doesn’t mean that we need to get rid of all plastics! After all, plastics do have a lower carbon footprint than the alternatives -and it is the material that 25 years ago the environmentalists wanted choose instead of paper. Who knows the absolute right answer? If we do now walk away from plastic bags, it would not be the first time our US society has come full circle in their overall opinion…