Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans
December 18 2012

More Plastic Bag Reduction Efforts

by Bill Hickman

Last week we covered the groundswell of plastic bag ordinances sweeping through California and this week we are happy to report another international bag ban while legislators on the East Coast are looking to place statewide fees on carryout bags.  Both houses of the Swiss Parliament voted to forbid the distribution of the plastic bags. The next step is for their government to implement the ban.  New Jersey and Virginia lawmakers have submitted bills that would put a fee of plastic bags in their respective states.

According to news reports, Switzerland’s Parliament has approved a motion banning single-use plastic shopping bags.  "The motion to ban plastic bags was introduced by Dominique de Buman, a member of the lower chamber of the federal Parliament, the Nationalrat, and vice-president of the PDC, the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland.  De Buman writes that Switzerland should serve as an example to other countries by controlling plastic bag waste.  Single-use plastic bags are used for less than an hour, writes de Buman, but when released into the environment plastic bags take hundreds of years to disappear."

Back here in the U.S., legislators in some states are starting to get their bills lined up for the upcoming legislative sessions.  In New Jersey the “Reduce Plastic and Paper Bag Usage Act” passed its first vote at the State Senate Environment Committee.  As currently written, the bill would "place a five cent fee on paper and plastic bags to address the overabundance of this litter.  The money generated by the five cent fee would be dedicated to environmental programs to clean up Barnegat Bay.  The average shopper uses 500 bags a year and with 8.8 million people in the state, the program could raise over $50 million."

A Virginia lawmaker is proposing a similar statewide bill modeled after the successful ordinances in Washington, DC and Montgomery County, MD.  "Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, is proposing the tax to raise money for Virginia's Water Quality Improvement Fund, a key revenue stream for Chesapeake Bay cleanup. If passed, by July 2014, every plastic bag handed out at the register at grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores would cost customers 5 cents.  Bags used for ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs would be exempt from the tax. Retailers could keep 1 cent of the tax -- 2 cents if they had a program that gave patrons money off their bill for bringing their own bags."

While plastic bag bans have the biggest impact in reducing plastic bag litter, fee programs such as in Washington DC have proven to make a big difference as well.  It is clear that any money raised needs to be spent wisely and retailers should be compensated to the highest extent possible for their costs.  The net savings for customers, taxpayers and the environment with plastic bag legislation is priceless.

Thanks to Environment News Service, New Jersey 101.5 and Washington Examiner for covering these stories.