Coming to a Store Near You: Bring a Bag or Pay

Brown recyclable paper bag

Brown recyclable paper bag

One of the greatest sources of citizen pollution other than cigarette butts and car exhaust may come with a new price tag. Plastic grocery bags or sacks have been a convenient mainstay of most trips to the market for groceries, household supplies, and produce, a free staple and expectation for shoppers everywhere. But even with the recent explosion in reusable shopping bags option, plastic bags continue to be the go-to convenience – and though millions are reused as trash can liners, lunch sacks, and to scoop the kitty litter, still millions more find their way into waterways as bits of toxic plastic or entrenched in the earth for years.

Though plastic bag bans have yet to début in the United States many countries have already taken the bold initiative including Ireland, Australia, Bangladesh, Taiwan, and South Africa. In most cases these plastic bag bans take the form of a significant tax on the use of plastic bags – a price most consumers choose not to pay. Friends of the Irish Environment in Cork County have reported phenomenal success as a result of the 15-cent (20 cent U.S.) tax on plastic bags – a 95 percent reduction since March of 2002.

While the idea of a plastic bag ban or tax has not reached higher levels of legislation in the U.S. some counties and cities are making the move voluntarily. In October of this year Aspen, Colorado city council members approved an ordinance banning the distribution of plastic bags and charging customers 20 cents per paper bag used. This strict move is in support of Aspen’s Waste Reduction Program and will take effect in March of 2012. Soon to follow may be four counties in the state of Oregon – Eugene, Corvallis, Newport, and Ashland County are all considering plastic bag bans.

Opponents of plastic bag bans cite concerns regarding the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs or arguments that bans have not demonstrated the ability to cut consumer use. But opponents may find their sails at half-mast with the increasing market (and job opportunities) in reusable bag companies and providers. With plastic bag bans on the horizon in many major cities (San Francisco and Los Angeles have bans in place) many consumers are hoping to beat the rush and invest in high-quality, expressive bag options. And companies have been quick to oblige with bags boasting their logos, motto’s, and catch phrases. Never mind the wide selection in materials, colors, and textures. For many consumers, a reusable shopping bag has become an addition to their wardrobe rather than a tacky detraction.

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