Every year, one trillion plastic bags - single use - are used, equating to 2 million per minute. Different countries have different usage levels, but the entire world has to commit to reducing this usage. A plastic bag is made from depletable resources, yet almost never breaks down.
Plastic is all over our planet. It is a fantastic material that has greatly improve the world. At the same time, it has killed many animals and plants and destroyed the beauty of the planet as a whole. If recycled, most of these problems wouldn't exist. However, we live in a disposable, consumerist society.
Plastic Bag Bans in Various Countries
There are a lot of problem associated with plastic bags, which is why bans or fees are in place in many countries. The oldest is in Denmark, which started in 1993, whereby charges are levied for the use of plastic bags. This made use drop by 60% quite quickly.
Ireland has perhaps the best known measure, which is the 2002 'bag tax'. Consumers would have to actually purchase bags. This resulted in a 90% drop in bag usage and a great reduction in litter. By 2007, usage was rising again, which led to an increase in the price of bags.
Ireland and Denmark are just two successful examples and many other countries across the world are following suit. The European Union will require an 80% reduction of plastic bags by 2019. This means virtually every European country is now considering ways to bring about reductions.
The main driver behind bag bans is to lower how much plastic finds its way into the marine world. About 94% of all birds have plastic in their stomachs, which is also found in the stomachs of many endangered species. At least 267 different species of animals have suffered as a result of ingestion of or entanglement with plastic. In fact, these results caused Australia to ban bags locally in 2003, in an effort to protect the migrating whales in Tasmania.
There are other reasons to ban bags as well. In Kenya, for instance, it is done to stop the spread of Malaria. In Bangladesh, the Philippines and Cameroon, it protects the sewage systems and avoids floods. In Texas and Indian communities, it is done to protect the cow. In Mauritania, for instance, 70% of sheep and cattle deaths are related to plastic ingestion. The same concern exists for camels in the United Arab Emirates.
Rwanda perhaps has the strictest strategy. Their ban started in 2008, and passengers often have to hand over all their plastic bags. Unfortunately, no statistics exist on the effectiveness of this ban. South Africa recognizes bags in trees and bushes as their national flower. They banned certain bags by 2003 and taxed thicker ones. Botswana put up a fee in 2007 and retailers have reported a 50% drop in bag usage. Some 16 countries on the African continent have bag bans and taxes in place.
China, not known for its environmental concerns, actually started to limit the use of plastic bags in the 1990s, albeit not successfully. By 2008, a law went into effect in line with the Olympic Games, which banned the thinnest bags and started a fee for thicker ones. Compliance is still not very good. Other Southeast Asian countries have also come up with reduction legislation.
In this country, there are 133 different anti-bag regulations, city and county wide. Some 30% of Californians are covered by this, as are almost all Hawaiians. Chicago banned bags in 2014. Washington, DC and Dallas charge for bags, paper and plastic. This was due to bags finding their way into the rivers. Canada has voluntary anti-bag actions and incentives for stores and consumers have dropped bag usage by some 50%. Plastic bags are no longer used in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba.
Certain cities in Chile and certain parts of Argentina and Brazil only use biodegradable bags. Sao Paulo banned single use bags in 2012 and charged for biodegradable bags. Unfortunately, this measure was removed. Mexico City banned bags in 2009. However, plastic manufacturers heavily protested this and the measure was repealed before it was actually enforced. Instead, a recycling initiative was instated, which is something plastic industry groups use regularly to avoid fees and bans.
It is no secret that plastic bags cost our world a lot, and that we are still paying for the many years of plastic bag usage. People should commit to reducing how many bags they use, taking their own bags when they go shopping, for instance. While governments do work towards helping us with that, we do also have to accept some personal responsibility towards saving the planet ourselves.