The City of Halifax is pondering the idea of a ban on plastic bags, with positions being taken up for and against. While still in the early stages of discussion, if and when the municipality does its homework, they’re likely to come around to the same conclusion that others have arrived at: the plastic bag problem needs to be addressed.
The trend is certainly in the air, as municipalities and regions across North America are starting to take aim at the dreaded single-use shopping bag in increasing numbers. New York City has announced it plans on levying a five cent fee on plastic bags, Chicago just enacted its fee (seven cents), while the whole of California recently approved a statewide ban on carry-out plastic bags. In Canada, the City of Montreal passed a bylaw banning stores from selling single-use plastic bags, with the rule coming into effect in January of 2018.
The debate usually travels along familiar lines. Proponents typically appeal to the unsightliness of the things, saying that if plastic bags weren’t so readily available, they wouldn’t be littering our streets and getting caught up in our trees. Detractors say that a ban is too much, in that more education on the evils of littering might do the job just as well. As far as a fee per bag approach goes, nay-sayers point out that adding another tax isn’t going to help anyone and will end up digging further into the pockets of those who find it hard enough to pay for groceries in the first place.
And everyone knows how convenient a plastic bag is. Where would we be without that drawer in the kitchen stuffed to bursting with the things?
But for perspective, a quick look at the numbers might help. The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that upwards of one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, which in itself might not be an issue save for the fact that most of that plastic ends up in our oceans. A study by the European Commission found that 90 per cent of wildlife in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs. Estimates are that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. And while not all plastics in the oceans and the environment originated from plastic bags, a good amount are. A study of New Jersey’s waterways found, for example, that 20 per cent of the plastic debris found therein came from plastic bags and other thin plastic wraps.
But now, how effective, you might ask, are municipal bans at curbing the problem? Pretty effective. In Denmark, since the country started putting a fee on plastic bags in 1993, plastic bag usage has been cut in half. China reports a 66 per cent drop in plastic bag usage after its ban on lightweight bags and a charge for thicker ones. Both of those amount to considerably less plastic ending up in our oceans and fish.
And as far as improving the look of one’s city goes, the bag ban or bag tax has reaped rewards there, too. In Ireland, a levy put in place in 2002 resulted in a 95 per cent reduction in plastic bag litter around the country, while in San Jose, California, where a full ban was introduced in 2011, the city has found an 89 per cent reduction in plastic litter in the storm drain system, 60 per cent less in creeks and rivers and 59 per cent less plastic garbage lying around city streets.
Altogether, the facts seem to speak for themselves. As convenient as they may be, single-use plastic bags either need to be banned outright or have a fee attached.