Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Lesson From Ireland

We occasionally have our own little sturggle in this house over plastic shopping bags. We have LOTS of them. Too many in fact. And I do recycle them, but many people do not. Just take a look around your cities, along your roadsides and particularly along the creeks, streams and rivers. It's a mess.

Both of us agree that supermarkets rely too heavily on plastic bags. We are always annoyed when the people bagging our groceries often insist on putting one tomato in a separate plastic bag, or when they instinctively attempt to put a 6-pack of beer (which has a carrying handle!) into a double bag.

I do like to use our durable cloth bag which was free from Central Market during a promotion a year or so ago. And we also have another cloth mesh bag which works well except for small items -- jalapeños could slip out.

Still, I have a very bad ungreen habit of using plastic grocery bags with my rationale being that they come in handy for kitty litter disposal. And that is also flawed because they still go to the landfill. I really should find an alternative and go 100% bag free. So should the United States. Many people in Ireland are doing it.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

“When my roommate brings one in the flat it annoys the hell out of me,” said Edel Egan, a photographer, carrying groceries last week in a red backpack.

It will take a big nationwide effort to accomplish a similar feat in the United States, but we can do it. It can't be a haphazard mishmash of rules, taxes, or appeals for voluntary compliance. We need a unified plan to eliminate this unnecessary blight, and soon.
In January almost 42 billion plastic bags were used worldwide, according to; the figure increases by more than half a million bags every minute. A vast majority are not reused, ending up as waste — in landfills or as litter.

Within a year or two we could look back at our excessive usage of plastic bags and wonder what the hell were we thinking and what took us so long to change. But change is going to require aggressive action against those who manufacture them, as well as from retailers who have the insanely misguided opinion that the bags are necessary.
Efforts to tax plastic bags have failed in many places because of heated opposition from manufacturers as well as from merchants, who have said a tax would be bad for business. In Britain, Los Angeles and San Francisco, proposed taxes failed to gain political approval, though San Francisco passed a ban last year.

This is bullshit because what are people going to do, stop buying groceries? If a tax or an outright ban on plastic bags is implemented across the board, there is then no alternative for shoppers. I would not have the option of taking my business to another store. And this is not a big adjustment to make in the grand scheme of things.

We save plastic bags in a kitchen drawer and every 3 months or so I have to clean it out and drop off a load at the recycling bin. As you can see, I'm overdue for a run right now.

We represent one house in a nation of 300 million people. Do the math. It's a lot of wasted plastic.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

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