You might have noticed for the past year and a half in grocery stores or pharmacies in Southampton there is no longer a choice between paper or plastic. Since November 2011 and in a first for New York State, Southampton town banned commercial retailers from providing plastic bags for single use. It was an interesting process to get the law passed. But with nearly unanimous support, the precedent-setting law took some very crucial steps to save the environment.
The kind of plastic bags you get at the grocery store or pharmacy are called single-use plastic bags. As the name describes, there is nothing particularly sustainable or re-usable about them. Perhaps, if you are like me, you considered yourself eco-friendly by re-using them to line garbage bins or to carry food to work in my real bag. So they became maybe double or triple-use. But perhaps you also didn’t realize there is absolutely no need for them in the first place. While paper is more sustainable for aquatic & animal life, there is an even better solution: BYOB. Bring your own bag!
There is one clear and compelling reason (in my opinion) to never ever except in extreme emergencies use plastic bags. They take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Conservatively 400 years. Just try to imagine the devastating legacy of that bag you hold in your hand. You are gifting the planet 400-1,000 years of pollution for every plastic bag that passes through your hand. Another fun exercise is to think where the planet was 400-1,000 years ago. What if the citizens of the Habsburg dynasty or Mongol dynasty or any other society around the globe at any time decided they didn’t care what happened to the planet 400-1,000 years ahead: they were going into the market with no bag and doubling-up on plastic bags on the way out because they can. That is the very definition of unsustainable. So that’s my reason not to pick up single use plastic bags.
But as a good friend of mine likes to intrigue people by giving a reason, another reason, the other reason, and then the real reason; there are countless reasons not accept single-use plastic bags. So here is another reason: taxing plastic bags is not as effective as a ban in changing behavior and therefore preventing plastic bag pollution. The other reason as already mentioned: you can BYOB bring your own bag. I didn’t finally change my behavior until the ban was imposed. And as I began researching the topic, it is not uncommon for even eco-minded people to simply ignore the environmental consequences in favor of the prevalent plastic bag. It was an unconscious habit. So the ban in Southampton forced me to recognize the habit and start bringing my own bag all at once. Very effective! But what of the ‘real reason’ as my friend would say, not to accept single-use plastic bags?
The ‘real reason’ as usual is the sum of all the reasons: it is devastating to the environment (and yes, we are a part of that environment as well). So what happens over the course of that 1,000 year life span of a plastic bag? I would explain it in scientific terms but I’m really digging infographics and I’ve found some great ones on the topic:
After those depressing stats you are probably due for some humor. Check this guy out: http://savetheplasticbag.com. That’s right a group committed to saving the plastic bag. I guess at 1 trillion a year they’re considered endangered… or maybe this is the ‘other real reason’ to look at our relationship with plastic bags and make some changes!