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Cities (San Francisco, U.S.A.; Mumbai, India) and even countries around the world (Ireland, Switzerland, and believe it or not, China) are beginning to ban or heavily tax single use plastic bags (the flimsy ones we get at the grocery store). Why?
Because plastic bags are made from petroleum (oil) and somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion bags are produced worldwide annually – another example of our dependence on oil.
Because less than 2 percent of these bags are taken back to grocery stores for special recycling while the others are dumped in our landfills, waterways, oceans or wherever the wind blows.
Because these discarded bags end up polluting our landfills, waterways and killing our wildlife (if you don’t believe this, just write “why plastic bags are bad” in your web browser and look at the pictures yourself).
So, now paper is better than plastic? NOT REALLY!
Disposable paper bags are costly to our environment too. Not only do they use valuable natural resources (trees), paper production also causes air and water pollution (more than plastic actually), and they also take a while to break down in our landfills. Fortunately, paper bags can be recycled much more efficiently than plastic but we still only recycle about 15 percent of our paper bags.
So, what’s a gal (or guy) to do?
We will probably never totally eliminate our use of plastic bags and we really probably can’t totally live without them… But, we can SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the number we use. Here’s how:
Get 4-5 reusable cloth bags, put them in your purse or car and USE THEM. If you’ve got them with you, you will use them. You can purchase five bags that roll up into a small pouch that easily fits into a purse from envirosax.com (they are also available at many retail stores like Target).
Reuse your plastic bags for meat or perishable items when grocery shopping
Reuse your plastic bags for pet clean up, disposing of smelly food waste, or trash can liners (but avoid using them for recycling as they are not recyclable and slow down the separation process at recycling centers). NOTE: Levy County Waste Management would prefer that we not use plastic bags, but will allow the use of used garbage bags to keep paper recyclables dry.
But can this really make a difference? Here’s some pretty convincing evidence:
Ireland’s tax levy on plastic bags reduced consumption by 90 percent (and generated millions of dollars for environmental programs and saved 184,755,614 gallons of oil in the first year)
Estimates are that China’s decision in 2008 saves 37 million barrels of crude oil/year (thedailygreen.com)
It is estimated that each family uses an average of 552 bags/year. So, if every household in Cedar Key just cut their use in half, we would use 112,000 less bags in a year– we can make a difference!
This column is a project of CK's Energy Advisory Panel, which welcomes first-person accounts of how individuals are conserving (or, even, aspiring to conserve) our community's natural resources. Your submission may be made via email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org"email@example.com. Please include your full name and your phone number.