Does Banning Items Solve Problems ?Posted: May 4, 2014
Perhaps. The effort to ban thin plastic bags and in some locations, even single use plastic bottles, is much in the news these days. I have mixed feelings about such efforts.
Back in Jan 2013, Concord MA became the first town acknowledged to have banned single use plastic bottles. It took activists, seeking to reduce waste and fossil fuel use, 3 years to achieve their result. A leader of that campaign was Jean Hill, a woman in her 80s, who expressed to the NY Times, back in 2010 – “The bottled water companies are draining our aquifers and selling it back to us. I’m going to work until I drop on this.”
According to the Ban the Bottle campaign – “It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That’s enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.” Their website also states: “In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water. With a recycling rate of only 23%, over 38 billion bottles end up in landfills.” It does seem that university students at many campuses around the United States are embracing the possibilities, of living without single use plastic bottles. I can believe that the impact per campus would be significant.
Even Concord, MA – in writing their legislation, noted an exemption for an “emergency adversely affecting the availability and/or quality of drinking water to Concord residents.” Yeah, there are circumstances when EVERYONE is grateful for the influx of safe drinking water in plastic bottles. Personally, I also question the health impacts of steering people instead to carbonated, sweetened or flavored waters (which are exempted from Concord’s ban), when simply pure water becomes legally unavailable, for those moments of thirst while on the run and away from home.
Some people feel that such actions will ultimately result in less plastic building up in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Other benefits perceived are cleaner groundwater and fewer people drinking water out of plastic bottles, all the way to breathing cleaner air due to less pollution by the manufacturing and transportation of these plastic bottles deemed by some to be “unnecessary”.
Plastics News, in the April 28, 2014 issue, notes that the city of Chicago is close to enacting a ban on single-use plastic bags. The legislation is expected to go into effect in the summer of 2015. Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports further negotiations, as the ban would only affect chain (a group of 3 or more locations with the same owner) and franchise stores of greater than 10,000 SqFt; but not independent stores and restaurants. It is noted that smaller chains and franchises are allowed an additional year to comply. Compostable plastic bags are allowed, which is a plus to my own thinking, and stores are allowed to charge for disposable bags. Several years ago, Whole Foods Markets ceased to offer any plastic bags at their stores, allowing only paper or one’s own reusable bag at check-out.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance definitely disagrees that this legislation will have no adverse impacts and notes that US plastic bag manufacturing and recycling businesses employ over 30,000, including 3,000 people in Illinois alone. Lee Califf, chairman of that organization says – “Comprehensive plastic bag recycling education would better benefit Chicago and preserve consumer choice.” We note that San Francisco enacted a bag ban back in 2007 and has since been joined by 70 other California cities and counties since then, using a mix of incentives from taxes or fees to bans. A statewide ban is pending. A recent similar effort in Florida failed. A similar measure charging a $0.10 fee on plastic bags is still pending in New York City.
I do have cloth grocery bags that I take to the store with me and use over and over again. Sometimes, one decides rather impulsively to pick up some item at the store and at such times, the convenience of receiving a bag for one’s items is appreciated. I realize that bags may be convenient for stores to use to speed checking out along, however, it does not seem to require all that much more time, when the bagger simply puts it back in my cart. Then, I must re-pack it in the bags and coolers I have brought with me but I can do so in a logical manner that will assist my unpacking when I get home.
I prefer plastic to paper because I love trees more than petroleum products; though both are highly recyclable, which is why I question the efforts to ban these items.
Our family still gets a lot of both and we DO recycle all that we bring home. As to single use plastic bottles, they are convenient. In our family, we have both a 5-gallon returnable glass bottle on our kitchen counter and single use plastic bottles which we re-fill over and over again. I like that our water does not sit in the plastic as long that way but there are many situations where the plastic is the most convenient method of having pure water available. When out of doors, using plastic prevents the possibility of broken glass scattered throughout whatever environmental terrain one finds themselves in.
Our business doesn’t process bags or PET bottles; yet as a recycler by trade I know that, if people would just make a little effort, I believe a more “positive” solution than simply attempting to ban modern conveniences, would be a sufficient solution to this admittedly serious “problem”.
~ Information Resources
“Thoreau’s Town Bans Single-Use Plastic Bottles !” by Tina Fields, dated Jan 30, 2013, posted in the WorPress blog – “Indigenize!” – http://indigenize.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/plastic-bottle-ban/
“Plastic Bottle Ban in Concord Massachusetts – posted Jan 2, 2013 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/02/plastic-bottles-banned-concord-massachusetts_n_2395824.html
“Ban the Bottle” – http://www.banthebottle.net/
“Chicago close to bag ban” posted April 24, 2014 by Gayle S Putrich at Plastics News – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140424/NEWS/140429925/chicago-city-council-committee-approves-plastic-bag-ban
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer