Bans, Taxes, and Fees: The Politics of Plastic Bags

It has become common practice around the world to use disposable plastic bags to assist us in our every day lives. Out of mere convenience and utility, the plastic bag has become a go-to resource for in-store purchases, big or small.

However, in light of current of research pointing to the environmental impacts of plastic bags, many cities, states, and countries have sought to change this through regulation and legislation.

Impact of Plastic Bags on The Environment

According to the Earth Policy Institute, 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year. For every 100 billion plastic bags being made, 12 million barrels of crude oil are being allocated to their production. Equivocally, a car could drive for one mile on the energy required to produce 12 plastic bags.

And most of these are not being recycled. Instead, they are ending up in lakes and oceans, on beaches, in landfills, and even in our own food chain. This is because rather than breaking down over time, they are simply breaking into smaller and smaller pieces.

Legislation on Plastic Bags Around the World

Due to the mounting environmental concerns, legislation is being passed across the globe to mitigate the manufacture and use of disposable plastic bags. The first plastic bag law went into effect in Denmark in 1993, which implemented a tax on the use of plastic bags. Ireland introduced the Bag Tax in 2002, reducing plastic bag use by 90 percent.

Bangladesh became the first country to outright ban thin plastic bags in 2002 after two major floods in 1989 and 1998, which were magnified due to plastic bag waste blocking drains and sewers.

China began enforcing plastic bag bans and regulations in 2008, just before hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. This eventually caused their largest plastic bag factory to shut down.

Other countries that have enacted regulations on plastic bags include Kenya, the Phillippines, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and more.

Legislation on Plastic Bags in the U.S.

As of 2016, legislation regarding plastic bag bans spanned 23 states and included 77 bills. Notable city-wide bans are now enforced in Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 2014, California became the first U.S. state to ban disposable plastic bags statewide. Since then, a de facto statewide ban on plastic bags has been enforced in Hawaii, and the District of Columbia has passed a law banning the distribution of disposable, non-recyclable plastic bags.

However, many states in the U.S. have passed legislation prohibiting regulations on disposable plastic bags. Preemptive legislation that prevents cities, towns, or counties from regulating the sale and distribution of plastic bags is enforced in nine different U.S. states, including Arizona, Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin.

What you can do about plastic bags…

The ban on disposable plastic bag use is gaining momentum and there are many ways you can contribute to this movement.

The most effective way to impose change is by writing your state representative. It is the job of your legislators to pass laws based on the values of their constituents. Voice your opposition to disposable plastic bags directly to those who can enact change.

In addition to directly contacting your representative, you can also make your voice heard through one of the many campaigns started to ban plastic bags, such as Greenpeace or Clean Up (The Project).

Sometimes the politics behind such a significant change can seem daunting. If you’re looking to promote change on a more local level, contact your local grocer to express your concern.

And finally, bring your own bag! By bringing your own bag to the store with you, you are easily able to say “No, thank you,” to plastic disposable bags when offered. Just because they are not legally banned in your city or state, doesn’t mean you have to use them.

Leave a comment