In a segment titled TELL ME MORE, Michel Martin of NPR News recently conducted an interview with Michel Bolinder of the group Anacostia Riverkeeper and Nick Gillespie, the editor-in-chief of the libertarian magazine, Reason. These gentlemen sat down together to discuss the pros and cons of fees or taxes levied against disposable plastic bags and outright bans on these disposable bags, as well as the environmental and societal impact of measures taken to curb plastic bag use.
The folks of Fort McMurray in Alberta Canada have been living with a disposable bag ban for about 9 months, and while there have been some bumps in the road things are going very well. Fort McMurray is about a 5 hour drive northeast of Edmonton and in 2010 the regional council unanimously voted to ban single use plastic and paper shopping bags after the residents handed over a petition in favor of a ban with 2,300 signatures. The ban went into effect in September of 2011 and the rest is history. Fort McMurray’s ban only extends to plastic bags given out by retailers; liquor stores, pharmacies, and some restaurants are still allowed to distribute single use plastic bags.
At the rate things have been going it should not be long before there are more cities in the state of California with bans on disposable plastic shopping bags than cities and towns without such bans. Northern California is a hotbed of bag ban activity, although the southern portion of the state has been making tremendous strides in the past year. Carmel-by-the-Sea (more commonly referred to simply as Carmel) and Pacific Grove are two of the more recent California cities navigating the plastic bag ban waters.
Corpus Christi, Texas has a litter problem. While the litter is varied, plastic bags are a main component and the City spends about $190,000 annually cleaning up disposable plastic shopping bags lifted by gusts of wind from the city landfill. Not only is the litter an eyesore, but the cleanup is expensive and the litter does not do any favors for the tourism industry, which is a vibrant part of the local economy given the City’s prime location on the beautiful Corpus Christi Bay.
Cuyahoga County in Ohio is home to the City of Cleveland and both municipalities are joining forces in the fight against plastic bags. As has been seen time and time again getting rid of plastic bags is no easy task and the City and County Councils are working with the county health department, solid waste district and community activists to figure out how to completely
do away with plastic bags. The City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County want to stop the use of plastic bags and they understand the enormity of this undertaking. They hope that by working together they can pool their ideas and resources and make plastic bags a distant memory.
After a local 8th grader made a proposal to the Town Council in Windham, Maine the town, located about 16 miles north west of Portland, found themselves in a predicament. The student, Sierra Yost, made a presentation urging the Council to ban single use plastic bags and impose a 10-cent fee on non-recyclable paper bags in stores larger than 2,500 square feet. Yost was inspired after seeing the documentary film, ‘Bag It.’
A stray plastic bag recently caused a street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn to be shut down. No one knows for sure where the bag came from, but the discarded bag was stuck in a tree and a resident of a building near the tree alerted police to a ‘suspicious’ looking plastic bag. Emergency crews blocked off the street to vehicle and pedestrian traffic and had residents and employees from local businesses remain indoors while they investigated for about an hour until the situation was deemed safe and the street was re-opened. In the end it was determined that the plastic bag contained a battery with wires attached to it – this most certainly added to the suspiciousness of the ordeal.
In 2009 the City of Toronto issued a 5-cent fee on disposable plastic bags. The objective was simple: to discourage shoppers from using the environmentally harmful plastic bags and encourage the use of reusable shopping bags. By all accounts this bylaw has been a tremendous success. About 215 million plastic bags are used annually in Toronto these days, down from 457 million before the fee was in place. Despite this, Mayor Rob Ford is looking to do away with the fee. On his weekly radio show Ford recently stated, “This bag tax has been around too long.” When questioned further, Ford stated, “I don’t believe taxpayers want to pay the 5 cents anymore.”
Last year SeaWorld in San Diego looked at ways to reduce plastic bags in conjuncture with the opening of the Turtle Reef attraction. The program has been such a success that the company plans to eliminate plastic bags in all 10 locations across the country over the next year. SeaWorld Orlando will discontinue the use of plastic bags to coincide with the opening of their latest attraction, Turtle Trek. The devastating toll plastic bags wreck on the environment hit especially close to home for SeaWorld. Caring for wildlife and their natural habitats is part of SeaWorld’s mission.
The Iowa Grocery Industry Association (IGIA) decided something had to be done about the disposable plastic bag problem. The bags are eyesores which are seldom recycled as they should be, and instead they float around as litter or take up space in landfills. Many municipalities implement bans of the bags, and while that may work for some people in some places the IGIA felt that was not the best fit and solution for the folks of Iowa. The IGIA came up with an ingenious plan of action and created the Build with Bags program. They secured sponsorships from some likeminded organizations, including Keep Iowa Beautiful, the Des Moines Area Metro Waste Authority, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and The Des Moines Register and they laid out a plan.