info 09.24.14

Green: Plastic Bags

Last week was Bring Your Own Bag week, in support of legislation to reduce single-use bags. New Yorkers use an astonishing 5.2 billion carryout bags per year, which cost the City $10 million annually to get those bags to landfills. (Plastic bags, if they get recycled at all, are downcycled only one time before they head for the landfill, when they're not accidentally blown into the ocean first).

As Edward Hume's excellent book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash notes: plastic bags are "a product with a useful life measured in hours and a waste life measured in centuries." The Greenpeace report Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans spells out the facts in grim detail.

Portland and Seattle and Brownsville, Texas have bag restrictions. And Rye, NY. Great Barrington, Mass. All of California. Washington, D.C. has a five-cent bag fee.

A ban (or a tax) on plastic bags won't clean up the plastic soup that large parts of the ocean have become. Single-use plastic bag legislation will certainly bring on the lawsuits and the end-runs by the plastics industry. It would be less convenient having to remember to bring a reusable bag (though stores could still carry paper bags and charge for plastic).

No, a NYC law to reduce the use of carryout bags won't cure the planet's ills. But it will have a real effect: In 2002, Ireland added a plastic bag tax and within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 90%. Washington D.C.'s fee on paper and plastic bags reduced consumption from over 22 million bags per month to 3 million.

It would also be an important statement by the City about New York's commitment to the environment, marking a cultural shift from material profligacy to greater business, governmental, civic, and individual responsibility.

Support the bill here.

Crosby Street

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