California Takes A Big Step in Plastic Reduction

California lawmakers have voted to ban single-use plastic bags at check-out counters in supermarkets. Retailers will still be offered paper bags but these will cost a nickel each. This welcome news is one of far reaching environmental significance when you consider the statistics. California alone uses 19 million plastic bags a year and the state spends $25 million annually to collect and bury them. San Francisco was the first city in the country to ban plastic bags in 2007. Now the whole state is gearing up for life without the ubiquitous carry bag which has become the symbol for our culture of convenience at the cost of something much greater.

With new support from the state’s grocery store lobby which wants a uniform statewide policy the ban in California is being introduced. This multiplicity of local laws prompted the California Grocers’ Association, which counts retailers like Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Whole Foods and 7-Eleven among its members to support the bill for a total ban.

plastic bags used

This is a great step for positive CSR and it is one of those actions where the impact of a collective effort can be measured. Consider the following facts:

  • Plastic bags are made of polyethylene which is a petroleum product
  • Production contributes to air pollution and energy consumption
  • Four to five trillion plastic bags are manufactured each year
  • Only 1% of the plastic bags are recycled
  • 60,000 plastic bags are used in the US every five seconds
  • It takes 1000 years for polyethylene bags to break down and this leaches toxic substances that enter the food chain
  • Approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals die per year by ingesting plastic bags
  • Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by marine mammals and 100,000 marine mammals die a painful death as the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death
  • Plastic bag choke landfills
  • Plastic bags are carried by the wind into forests, ponds, rivers, and lakes

Plastic bags are the single largest urban impact on the environment. This is the reason why the UN is also proposing a global plastic bag ban - the result would be monumental. China and Bangladesh have already imposed a nation-wide ban and have seen significant environmental impacts. There is no reason why California shouldn't see the same change.

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