This article ran last week in the Katy Trail Weekly but today is the day the plastic bag fee starts in Dallas! Does your city have a plastic bag ban or fee? Mine now does, and I’m excited for change in 2015. Find out the plastic bag scoop:
January is quickly approaching and in Dallas the new year is bringing an environmental everyday change for all of us. The five cent plastic bag fee will go into effect at most stores beginning in 2015. Are you ready? You may have already noticed signage in your stores preparing you for the change in just a few short days.
A plastic bag charge or ban is already in effect in many cities around the country (ex: Los Angeles, Washington DC, Palm Springs) and state (ex: Brownsville, South Padre Island, Fort Stockton). Cities are taking action to encourage citizens to use less resources by using less plastic bags. Every year the United States uses about 100 billion single use plastic bags (263 million per year in Austin) which costs retailers an estimated $4 billion a year (reuseit.com). In just four trips to the grocery store the average family accumulates 60 plastic bags!
Before you get angry in line at the grocery store on January first, let’s remember why we are doing this:
- Plastic bags are a petroleum (oil) derived product that take up to 1000 years to degrade, and if they end up at the bottom of the ocean, they may never degrade.
- Most are made overseas. Transportation has high monetary and environmental costs (increasing carbon emissions and global warming).
- Studies show only between 0.5-5 percent of all plastic bags are recycled. Some are reused in the home as trash can liners, some to pick up dog droppings, but most end up in the landfill, on the streets or in our oceans. “Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.” (reuseit.com)
The five cent charge is more of an awareness nudge. Paying five cents reminds you that these bags come at a cost. Paying a small bag fee will encourage you to think about how many bags you actually need and what you will do with the bags. It will deter customers from taking unnecessary bags destined for the trash can. If you can carry an item in one hand, you don’t need a bag. If you are doing a weeks worth of groceries, bring your reusable bags.
Reusable bags don’t come worry free either. Many are also made overseas, using virgin materials and have high environmental costs. According to a study done by the Environment Agency of the United Kingdom, a cotton reusable bag would have to be reused 131 times to ensure it has a lower environmental footprint than the conventional plastic bag. If plastic bags are reused as a trash can liner at home 40 percent of the time, the reuse number of the cotton bag jumps to 173 times. If plastic bags are reused 100 percent of the time, the number jumps to 327 times for the cotton bag (wrap.org).
The best option is to use bags you already have at home. Start keeping an eye out for bags that can be used to bring store bought items home. The next best option is to purchase a reusable bag that is made from recycled materials. You can also reuse the plastic bags you have at home or my favorite: the grocery cart. Whatever bag you choose, use it until it falls apart and recycle the remnants.
The hardest part will be remembering your bags. Keep a stash in your vehicle or you can try my rule: If you forget your bags you must carry out your items bagless. Fumbling out of the grocery store with a stuffed purse and armful of groceries is a great consequence that reinforces you to remember bags the next time.
The overall goal is to produce less plastic bags, recycle more bags, and have less plastic pollution. A study done by the Department of the Environment in Ireland found a 93.5% drop in plastic bag usage after placing a tax on plastic bags in 2001. I’m hopeful the Dallas plastic bag fee causes citizens to use less bags. The optimist in me sees the bag fee as opening people’s eyes to other unnecessary one time use items in our lives. Next up, the produce plastic bags. Do you need those?