Plastic Bag Ban (June 2014)

Plastic bags are used all over the world; the number of plastic bags used worldwide has been estimated to be around 1 trillion annually

When looking at how many plastic bags a consumer uses in a year in various countries, its easy to see just how much the numbers differ. For example, in China the average consumer uses only 2 or 3 in a year, Denmark 4, Ireland 18, Germany 65, USA more than 300, Poland Hungary and Slovakia more than 400. The average person in the UK uses 290 bags each year.

Plastic bag facts:

  • 500 billion plastic carrier bags are used worldwide each year.
  • 8 billion plastic bags were given out in 2011 in the UK.
  • Thousands of marine animals and more than 1 million birds die each year as a result of plastic pollution.
  • Plastic bags not only litter our landscape, they block drains and pipes contributing to critical conditions.
  • A plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade.

Environmentalists have been trying for years to get retailers to ban the bags or at least charge consumers for each bag handed out at the cash register, with little success. But the tide seems to be turning.

Last week, 133 American cities or counties have imposed controls, according to a recent update from the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The measures range from charging 5 to 20 cents for every bag that is handed out by cashiers, to full bans—usually on so-called thin plastic bags, which are only intended for one-time use.

It has been reported that bag bans are now covering one third of the people in California. San Francisco has now put a ban in place from larger supermarkets, chain pharmacies and restaurants. Figures show that plastic bag purchases have fallen from £107 million  in 2008 to £62 million in 2012.

Texas have started to increase their rules, Austin has banned the use of thin bags and Dallas have started to charge 5 cents with each bag used. Seattle banned the bags back in 2012 and have introduced a 5 cent fee for paper bags. We are still waiting for a state to pass a full statewide ban.

These recent changes and progress towards more bag bans has been welcomed by other countries like Denmark and Ireland who have been leading the movement. Members of the European Union have agreed to reduce plastic-bag use by 80 percent by 2019.

However, restrictions and bans in other parts of the world have been less successful, for example China passed a ban on thin plastic bags before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but Scientific American’s editor, who was in China that year, was told that enforcement was often lax and fines were often not levied. Several large cities in South America have proposed bans that were defeated by industry or passed laws that were later overturned by courts.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for plastic carrier bags.

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