Ban It or Bag It

Don't bag it—in plastic anyway. Is a ban on plastic in our future?

Have you heard about being studied by Mountain View?

The ordinance would ban single-use carryout bags and (potentially) charge for paper bags at all retail stores in Mountain View, excluding restaurants, charitable non-profit thrift organizations, and protective bags for produce, meat and prescriptions.

Like me, when you think plastic bag use you probably think grocery shopping, but the scope of this ordinance would be wider. It would involve all retail stores. Hmmm. It’s hard to imagine Kohl’s and Target without their bags.

However, I have no trouble imaging the harm plastic causes the environment. Plain and simple, using plastic causes problems.

Here are some facts:

Between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used yearly worldwide. (I can’t even fathom these numbers. Can you?) It’s estimated that Californians use 12 billion plastic bags a year. Less than 5 percent of those bags get recycled.

A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Our oceans and landfills are clogged with plastic debris. Use-and-toss bags often end up in trees and rivers choking wildlife.

So this writer asks, why don’t we already have a ban? San Jose and San Francisco are on this band (banned) wagon. Even Los Angeles has adopted it. What are we waiting for? C’mon, Mountain View, step up. Ban single-use plastic bags. Help protect our environment.

But that’s just my opinion. There are others – advocates and critics alike convinced their stance is the right one. The jury may still be out on what will be most effective for the future.

Some critics believe a ban would be more of a Band-Aid than a solution—trading one set of problems for another without any significant environmental solution because paper bags are equally offensive and problematic.

Manufacturing paper bags effects forests, causes air and water pollution (acid rain) and uses more energy to produce a final product. Have you ever been near a paper mill? The stench is unforgettable. Paper is denser and isn’t completely degradable either—landfills are full of paper.

From where I sit, the real issue isn’t about a choice between paper or plastic, it’s about how we can least impact our environment. Simply banning plastic bags isn’t enough. Many, myself included, believe we need to change our cultural attitudes. We need to care—care about protecting the environment and living greener—and act responsibly.

Reusable totes are a good start. Some, like Chico Bags, are small enough to tuck inside your pocket or your purse—even a small one. And they come in fun colors.

Yes, totes need to be washed occasionally and that involves energy use, but despite concerns about germs, they don’t need to be washed after every use. If something spills inside one of my bags, I rinse it and wipe it clean. I don’t wash my purse every time I use it and it comes in contact with a world of unseen germs every day.

Totes are a little less convenient. I have to remember to bring it with me— BYOB. (I remember when those letters held an entirely different meaning for me.) Sometimes I forget and have to go back to the car to get it, but hey, the extra walking can’t hurt.

I keep three or four bags in my car all the time. One has a local school logo, another a Safeway logo. That doesn’t stop me from using it at another grocery store—no embarrassment for this shopper. In fact, I say it’s good luck for the “other” store. I’m guessing they’re pleased they carry what I’m looking—I’m there, I’m not in Safeway. (Hmmm. Maybe that’s an idea for a new ad.)

What about the myth that plastic bags are free—I don’t want to have to pay for a paper bag, (with this ordinance stores can charge a fee if a customer elects to use a paper bag instead.) Folks, nothing is free. A store might not charge me outright for a plastic bag, but somewhere along the way the cost is reflected in their item pricing, and I’m paying for it.

Looking back, plastic bags have only been around for about 50 years. Before that shoppers used paper bags, but go back further – people grew their own food, they hunted and gathered and used whatever was at hand – a basket, a crate, a flour sack or a bottle. When paper and then plastic entered the picture we called it progress. It was certainly more convenient.

But such inexpensive convenience may have paved a difficult road, especially from an environmental point of view.

Plastic bags are not recycled effectively—yet. I can’t help thinking that banning plastic should open the door to the opportunity to develop improved, more biodegradable bags.

I reuse plastic bags all the time, and I’ll miss being able to easily replenish my supply if the ban goes into effect. But if it turns out to be the best solution environmentally, I’m on board.

Still not convinced? How about this final fact for considering switching to a reusable bag: over a lifetime, the use of reusable bags by just one person would save over 22,000 plastic bags.

Get informed. Listen to what others have to say about this issue. Don't miss your chance to speak up about it – pro or con. Attend the open session on the subject for residents and retailers:


MV Resident July 27, 2012 at 07:52 PM
As was already stated, what are you supposed to use for your kitchen trash? I live in an apartment and the rule there is that the trash must be in a plastic bag. I do my best to recycle, so a lot of it is food waste and things that can't be recycled. And before anyone says "compost", I will repeat that I live in an apartment. For this country to be truly green would take a major overhaul that I really cannot see happening. I do use fabric bags for most of my shopping. However, my trash will still be going out it plastic bags. I have plenty left over from before I used fabric bags.
Claudia Cruz July 27, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Phil ... I do the same. Reuse the plastic bags for a variety of things besides garbage. When I travel, I put my shoes in them so that my clothes don't get dirty in the suitcase. But I guess brown bags could do that too ... they just break faster:-(
Claudia Cruz July 27, 2012 at 08:57 PM
@MVResident: I think that the next step in your thinking is this ... we consume too much already. Besides food, which we obviously need, we spend a lot of money and time shopping for other things that usually are carried around in plastic bags. That's what I think about before I shop. If I can walk out carrying the item, I do (with the receipt in hand, of course!).
Jeanne Sanders August 02, 2012 at 07:15 PM
o.k. I also reuse every single plastic bag that i get from my shopping and will have to buy replacement bags..so more expense for me...if i can go into a store today and i'm given a plastic or paper bag for free..as we all know the millions big stores pay for bags is built into their cost , then why would i now pay for the same bag ....is that more profit for the store ? I have seen people walking out of stores in Sunnyvale carrying clothing they have just purchased like they were headed to the dry cleaners....I would also like to state that I do not believe retail is paying anywhere near 10 cents a bag and to hear that it will be raised to 25 cents.....is an outrage....i can agree to a ban on plastic. if i am given a paper bag in its place as it is now .FREE.....We are being over regulated people......time to say" STOP" there is way to much city council in private business and making decissions for me as a resident. .
Ryan August 03, 2012 at 02:37 PM
A journey of a million miles begins with a single step. In the long run, having millions of people using fewer products like plastic bags on a daily basis will make a very real impact on the environment. I live in NH - the "live free or die" state - and there is a similar culture starting to take shape here. I confess that sometimes I too feel inconvenienced or over-regulated, but when I actually reflect on the concept of decreasing our reliance on plastic bags I realize it is a good thing. Bags are not banned completely, and there are many conscientious ways to re-use them. I will still use them sometimes, but I will use a lot fewer of them. Will we be "free" in our pursuit of happiness when we have to pay for clean water and clean air? Take a moment and consider smog, a big part of life in the bay area. You see it most days. You often can't burn wood in the winter anymore. As a physician, I can confirm that the data is clear that smog triggers asthma, and that the rates of asthma in the US are rising every year - correlating with the increases in smog in our urban areas. http://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/Asthma/index.html. Will a "ban" on bags decrease smog or ER visits for asthma? No. But the "ban" will prompt us to have an open dialog about civilization's impact on the environment, and how all of us as individuals need to start changing our daily practices to make the future more sustainable so that our children will be "free" to live long and healthy lives.


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