A Town-By-Town Guide To Banning Plastic Bags·
Since plastic carryout bags were introduced in the 1960s, people have used trillions of them, and, for the most part, thrown them away. And whether they’re sitting in a landfill, hung up in a tree limb or floating around the ocean, the bags don’t biodegrade, and they’re not going away anytime soon. They’re free to consumers, convenient and cheap for stores to use. But they have joined billions of tons of tossed-away plastic packaging materials and products to cause a variety of environmental problems. And in a growing number of communities, citizens have decided that they’ve got to go.
More than 300 municipalities across the United States now ban or charge fees for single-use plastic bags. California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and American Samoa have banned them, as have 55 countries. Thirty-one more have imposed a fee.
It’s unclear how effective these laws have been overall. In some places the bans are barely enforced, particularly poor nations with weak or nonexistent waste collection systems. But in many places, usage has dramatically declined, and litter and its associated problems have been reduced.
The Problem With Plastic
The explosion in the use of these bags is a sign of the much larger problem of plastic waste, and our attitudes toward the earth’s resources. For all the convenience of free bags, we’ve been offloading the real costs of these things—including their disposal and the environmental damage they cause—to the larger public, points out Steve Cohen, former executive director of the Earth Institute.
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