Plastic Bag Ban—What Happened?
By Andrea Stallsworth
Like many of you, I celebrated the news of a plastic bag ban. We all know that plastic is causing a lot of harm to our environment. You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing plastic bags flying around in the wind.
On average, a single-use plastic bag is only used for 12 minutes. Let me say that again. We only use a plastic bag for approximately 12 minutes. But after its short-lived life, it stays on our planet for hundreds of years, causing huge damage.
Since 2014, eight states have banned single-use plastic. Great news, right? Yes! The bad news is that nobody is enforcing the bans.
Unfortunately, critics of the movement have tried to stop ban enforcement. They have gone as far as filing lawsuits to overturn the ban. And, of course, COVID-19 has put the brakes on it as well.
Our planet needs effective, fully enforced plastic bag bans. The health and safety of animals and the planet are in jeopardy.
The Lifespan of a Plastic Grocery Bag
Every year we use approximately 500 BILLION (yes, billion) plastic bags worldwide. Let’s look at a bag’s journey during its time on our planet.
The production and delivery of plastic bags use millions of gallons of petroleum. Drilling wells are everywhere, pumping 11.5 million barrels of oil per day. This petroleum is a non-renewable resource. Plus, the toxic chemicals used to make the bags contribute to global warming and climate change.
After a highly polluting production process, the bags make their way into all kinds of stores and restaurants. There, billions of people use them to take their stuff home from the store. Yes, some people reuse the bags as a trash can liner or to pick up their dog’s poo— but the bags will get thrown in the trash.
On its way to the landfill, that bag might fly right off the truck. It will clog storm drains, leach toxic chemicals into the water supply, and litter the ground. It also becomes dangerous for any animal that may eat it or get tangled in it.
If the bag does make it to the landfill, it will sit there for hundreds of years. During this time, it will break down into small particles that also end up in the ground and water systems. There is no “throwing a plastic bag away”.
Our Oceans Are In Danger
Single-use plastic bags are a threat to our entire planet. Our oceans are especially affected. Many of these bags end up in our water supplies and eventually the ocean. We’ve all seen the heartbreaking pictures of turtles with plastic in their mouths.
Over 100,000 marine animals die each year from plastic bag pollution. Many sea animals mistake plastic bags for food and eat them. They think that they are eating jellyfish or squid.
The bags get stuck in the digestive system of these animals, causing lethal damage. “Death from eating any of these items is not a quick one and it is not likely to be painless,” said marine ecologist Dr. Lauren Roman. “It’s a pretty awful way to die.”
Sea animals don’t only eat these bags. They can also get trapped or entangled in them. Trapped by a bag, they aren’t able to swim properly or hunt for food. This leads to death as well. If things don’t change, the future of our oceanic friends and the planet doesn’t look good. Reports have shown that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Plastic Bag Bans on the Books
In 2014, California became the first state to place a ban on plastic bags. That’s good news because it shows that there is a cultural shift happening. We’re recognizing that something needs to be done. Changes need to be made.
Following in the footsteps of California, seven other states also put a plastic bag ban in place. Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont all recognized the need for change.
Banning plastic bags will reduce trash pollution and energy consumption. There will be fewer amounts of toxic chemicals in our water and soil, and our animals will stay safe and healthy.
Unfortunately, these states are not enforcing the bans they put in place. There have been warnings given, but warnings without action are useless.
Why Aren’t Plastic Bag Bans Enforced?
COVID-19 has been the biggest factor in the delay of these bans. States have concerns about their already overburdened staff. They fear that the addition of enforcing a bag ban will add extra stress to their job.
Early in the pandemic, it wasn’t known if reusable bags were safe to use. We worried that the COVID-19 virus might live longer on mesh or cloth bags.
Let’s take a closer look at a couple of the states who have a plastic bag ban on the books, but aren’t enforcing that ban.
Plastic Bag Ban— NYC
New York’s plastic bag ban went into effect the same day that the first case of COVID-19 was announced. Talk about terrible timing. This meant COVID-19 took precedence over the ban.
A lawsuit by the bag manufacturer Poly-Pak also delayed enforcement. They challenged the legality of the ban.
Thankfully, they didn’t win their case. But the judge did rule that the state would have to pay Poly-Pak’s legal fees and court costs. He stated that the wording in the ban was “incorrect” and “frivolous”.
Plastic Bag Ban— Oregon
Oregon’s plastic bag ban, created in 2019, bans the sale of single-use plastic grocery bags. Retailers are also required to charge at least five cents for paper and reusable bags.
Penalties for continuing to use plastic bags were clear. Businesses could face a fine of $250, and each new day would be a new offense and another fine.
These fines still aren’t enforced. Oregon stores continue to use single-use plastic bags with zero consequences.
Make Your Voice Heard
Having bans on plastic bags in effect with no real enforcement isn’t doing anything to help our planet. It’s time to start enforcing the plastic bag bans in all these states.
All 50 states need to hear your voice. Both the states and the federal government need to hear us. They need to know that we will continue to push for plastic bag bans AND enforcement until they take action.
The dangers to our environment don’t disappear because there’s a pandemic. The planet and the animals still need our help. This ban needs to be enacted and enforced in every state.
We have learned much more about COVID-19 now. In the first months of the pandemic, we took every precaution, including using single-use bags—but it’s time to change that.
Scientists and doctors have determined that reusable bags are as safe and healthy as plastic single-use bags as long as you wash them. I don’t know about you, but I am more than willing to wash my reusable bags if it means a healthier planet.
So, how can you help? First, take your own reusable bags to the store when you shop. Also, educate yourself on your state’s policies and enforcement of plastic bag bans. Once you have this information, contact your representatives at the state and federal levels. Put pressure on them to take action on this serious issue.
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Author Bio: Andrea Stallsworth is a Colorado-based copywriter. She enjoys spending time in the Rocky Mountains, reading, and spending all the time she can with her family.