Plastic shopping bags have been getting a bad rap lately. The August issue of Rolling Stone ran an article about how plastic bags are littering the world's beaches and oceans, with Americans alone using 102 billion bags annually.
And here in Rye, the Rye Sustainability Committee (RSC) has also been digging up the dirt on plastic bags. The group plans the argument for a city-wide ban on plastic bags.
If the city ends up adopting the ban, it would be far from alone. In May, Long Beach, CA passed a ban, and in July, Portland, OR did so. RSC also notes in an educational pamphlet on the issue that Westport, CT and Nantucket, MA are also amongst the municipalities that have enacted plastic bag bans.
Sara Goddard, chairwoman of RSC's Reusable Bag Initiative Committee, told Patch that the group is campaigning to businesses and residents the benefits of using reusable bags. The group, she said, plans to model the proposed plastic bag ordinance on that which passed in Westport, CT in 2008.
A city-wide plastic bag ban would also be facilitated . Westchester County's "Bring Your Own Bag" campaign is aiming to reduce plastic bag use. While the county doesn't pick up plastic bags through curbside recycling, large retail stores a required by law to provide recycling receptacles.
On the state level, Senator Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck) introduced a bill last session that would impose a five-cent tax on plastic bags from supermarkets and other stores.
But what's the big deal about plastic bags, anyway? Aside from being aesthetic displeasing when they're strewn across parking lots and sidewalks, RSC says they have serious consequences for marine life, with an estimated one million animals a year killed from ingesting or becoming entangled in them. The group also notes that it takes 12 million barrels of oil annually to produce all the plastic bags we use in the US.
Despite these environmental issues, the Progressive Bag Alliance (PBA), a group that represents the interests of plastic bag manufacturers, maintains that plastic bags aren't all that bad.
In "10 Myths About Plastic Grocery Bags," the PBA says that plastic bags use 40 percent less energy to produce than paper bags, and are 100 percent recyclable. The group also says that 0.05 percent of each barrel of oil used in the US is used to create plastic bags. The PBA also calls for more education on recycling and a national in-store plastic bag recycling program.
These are interesting points to note, and it's responsible of the PBA to advocate for the recycling of plastic bags. But that doesn't mean that the environmental costs of producing and throwing billions of plastic bags each year are erased by recycling them. In fact, even Westchester County, which has a relatively extensive recycling program, doesn't recycle plastic bags. Likely due to the difficulty of recycling such thin plastic material, the RSC says that only two percent of plastic bags in the US are recycled each year.
While it's not a sin to bring home groceries in plastic bags once in awhile--let's say you use them to line your trash can--unfortunately many people always get plastic bags at the store and even let the wind carry them off when they're done using them.
We'll have to see how the Rye City Council reacts to a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags next month, but for now it's probably a wise move to usually use reusable bags anyway.