Luck o’ the Irish
It seems as though everyone is Irish today. We had a work party to celebrate paper reduction and everyone brought in ‘green’ food (I brought in mint brownies). Local radio stations were broadcasting at Irish pubs that had opened for business at 6 AM. I don’t think there has been this much celebrating since Christmas.
Clearly, the first thing I did this morning when I got in was to do some reconnaissance work as to what everyone brought in. We marched to the library like lemmings with our guacamole, salads, and a very yummy green chili soup… and most of us toted our wares in a plastic grocery store bag.
The amount of plastic one-use grocery store bags would make any leprechaun a little green in the face. Estimates vary widely as to how many bags we use every year. Anywhere from 500,000,000,000 to 1,000,000,000,000 (yes – that is 1 trillion) “free” bags are given away every year. To deal with this staggering problem the Irish were the first country to introduce a “plastax” which placed a 15 cent tax on all thin plastic bags back in 2002. Within 6 months, plastic bag usage was down 90%. After being in place for 6 years, the tax has risen to 29 cents and usage is down 95%. Other countries and cities have caught on. Some countries ban the bags outright. San Francisco has banned them in certain situations.
Economic & Environmental Impact:
While the bags are cheap to produce, they are very expensive to dispose of. Many bags become problematic to curbside recycling programs because typical recycling facilities are not equipped to handle these bags. People can take them to many chain stores for recycling or reuse. However, many more of these bags become litter and clog sewers and cause other problems. Also, because most bags do not get recycled American’s are throwing away around 12 million barrels of oil.(Wall Street Journal) (but last I heard we have plenty of oil and the stuff is rather cheap so I’m not too worried about that ~ yeah. right.)
What to do?
Go buy a reusable bag! There are tons of cute, big, small, plain, fancy, etc. options! The average American family uses 1,500 plastic bags a year. By reducing this number, you will have the greatest impact. If you must use a plastic bag, make sure it gets recycled. Check out your local grocery store to see if they have a collection bin. Then do a little jig, because you will know you had a huge impact.