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CA plastic bag ban is example to all

Credit: Emily Giedzinski/ Credit: Emily Giedzinski/
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

How often do you find yourself asking for a plastic bag at Entropy+? Does the fee of a few cents change your mind about using plastic bags? Taxes need to hit a certain pain level to actually change behavior and since taxes do not always call for immediate action, statewide bans on plastic bags may be necessary. Last week, California became the first state to ban plastic bags officially — a model for other states.

Over the past few years, a handful of local and city governments have been successful in implementing a plastic bag tax or even a ban on plastic shopping bags altogether. San Francisco was the first major city to ban plastic bags in 2007.

This ban led other local governments to follow its model. Seattle, for example, prohibits retail stores from providing customers with single-use plastic carry-out shopping bags. Retail stores are allowed to provide any size recyclable paper or reusable bags, but they must charge 5 cents for paper carry-out bags of a large enough size.

Increasingly, more local governments have been following these examples, but there has not been a statewide ban on plastic bags until now. The California ban will go into effect from 2015 through 2016. This statewide ban should be a powerful way to push people to use fewer plastic bags and encourage them to use reusable ones.

Environmental activists have pushed for plastic bag bans for years, as these bags create mountains of trash that are difficult to recycle. In addition, plastic bag manufacturers use energy and nonrenewable resources like oil. The use of plastic bags isn’t the only problem; their creation also harms the environment.

However, it has been difficult to pass a statewide ban because plastic bags are cheaper for businesses to use than paper bags. According to Cathy Browne, a general manager at a California plastic bag manufacturer, the banning of plastic bags will lead to layoffs in companies such as hers. In response, Democratic California governor Jerry Brown stated that the ban will be “closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining — and growing — California jobs.”

Even within the community of environmentalists, there are disagreements on the ban of plastic bags. There are people who oppose banning plastic bags and suggest that a tax is the better alternative. One of the main arguments against the ban is that plastic bags are very low in priority when all environmental issues are considered. Nevertheless, encouraging small, environmentally positive changes is a step. It may or may not make a giant impact right away, but it is, in fact, a step.

For those cities that do not have plastic bag bans, it is not difficult to make the more environmentally-friendly choice on an individual level. You can walk into any grocery or convenience store and find a display of reusable bags for sale. As students, we typically carry backpacks that can also be used to carry groceries. Make it a habit of bringing a reusable bag with you when you go grocery shopping. It is not a huge change to make, but, in the company of many others, it will make a significant impact on the future of our environment.