That may be what you are thinking when you read the title of this post but more and more cities are having this debate as plans surface to ban plastic bags from being used within their cities. And like everything political, there are two sides to the story.
When I first heard about this proposed ban in our city I thought it was a great idea. “Yes! Ban use of those nasty bags! Then we won’t see them washed up on beaches and found in the stomachs of whales a because they look somewhat like a slimy food source.”
But then after doing some research and learning more about the proposed ban, I started wondering if there is a better way to get to the same goal? After all, I think both sides of the debate would agree that they would be happy to see a reduction in plastic usage and keeping plastics out of landfills and water sources.
First thing to note is that no bag ban is created equal – each city is drafting their own version and heavily borrowing from other municipalities that have adopted such regulations. You have to wade through the political and legal jargon to figure out exactly what is being banned. Reading these documents is enough to put the most caffeine enriched individual into a coma. Here are some of the finer points to watch for in the ordinance language:
- What type of Plastic Bag is included/excluded?
- The ban may only applies to a certain type of plastic shopping bags – most bans pick on those stereotypical grocery bags but not the thin plastic produce bags or the thicker gage department store bags.
- Exceptions to the ban?
- In some ordinances, bags can still be used if they are needed to safely transport food (leaky meat containers, soups from carry out restaurants, etc)
So while I whole-heartedly agree with getting plastic usage reduced and eliminating this waste stream, these bans seem more like a band-aide on the Hoover Dam, especially with the all the exceptions and definitions. My fear is that once bans are adopted, communities may think this situation is “fixed” when it won’t be.
I have heard proponents voice the opinion that, “something is at least not nothing”. True. But we need to do more to really impact consumption behavior. After all, these bags are just a small portion of the problem. I truly believe that consumers, when given the right information and economic incentives, will make good choices for themselves and the environment.
Without sounding too preachy, the government need not get involved if we, as consumers, can self-regulate our choices. So here are some ideas we could consider beyond or in addition to the ban to help us make better choices.
- Charge for plastic bag usage: It is a nuance, but this is not a discount for using your own bag (like $0.05 per bag) but actually charging consumer a $1 or more if they choose to use plastic and/or paper. Call it an “Environmental Impact Fee”. It will put an economic incentive in place to really encourage people to bring their own bags. For those of us who forget our bags from time to time (I have been there), we can either choose to pay for usage or skip the bag and carry out in a cart or in hand.
- Deposit money: For years, this has worked with plastic, aluminum and glass bottles so why can’t it also be expanded to include plastic bags? By including a deposit fee for usage, there is a least an incentive to return the bag for proper disposal or recycling.
- Guilt: Call it what you will, but peer pressure does work and little reminders help to keep the pressure gently applied. I am a huge fan of those “Reminder cards” in hotels that remind you of the environmental impact of having your sheets and towels replaced daily. Friendly reminders about the impact of plastic bag usage strategically placed at check out aisles and in-stores can help apply a little pressure on a consumer’s choice.
At the end of the day, I don’t oppose a ban. I just would like to encourage all of us, including our local politicians, to think “outside the bag” and think how else we could additionally really impact meaningful change. I would love to hear more suggestions so if you have them, let’s work for fix this together.