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The End of the Plastic Bag

There is a giant hurricane threatening the entire East Coast. And the economy is in shambles, regardless of what Ben Bernanke promises to do at the Fed today. But this week I’ve been thinking about something a lot smaller – plastic shopping bags.¬† Or more particularly, the demise of the single-use plastic shopping bag.

It seems that the minister of the environment of Italy, Stefania Prestigiacomo, imposed an outright ban on single-use, non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags, beginning on Jan.1 of this year. I learned about this because we here at C&EN were wondering what would cause a bunch of bio-based chemicals firms to want to put manufacturing plants there.

Bagging it. Washington, DC discourages plastic bag use

Earlier this week, Genomatica, a bio-based chemicals maker, said that it would enter a joint venture with Italian bioplastics firm Novamont. This follows a string of similar announcements that have made Italy a hotspot of bio-based chemical production. In May, compostable plastics firm Cereplast announced it would build a 100,000 ton per year facility in Assisi. In the same month DSM and Roquette said they would build a commercial-scale succinic acid plant in Cassano Spinola.

Back here in the U.S., wrangling about plastic bags is done on a local, not national, level. San Francisco – as usual – led things off with a ban in 2007.

Washington, DC, the hometown of the ACS, took a more subtle route that I believe was really based on old-fashioned moral suasion. The DC council learned the trash that made the Anacostia River such an eyesore was, inlarge part, plastic bags. Starting in early 2010, regulations were put in place requiring a 5 cent fee for plastic bags at any retail outlet selling food. The fees collected would go to help clean up the river, as would the decrease in plastic bag use.

I’m not the only one thinking about plastic bag bans this week. Over on the Greenbiz blog, Leslie Guevarra asks if these regional efforts are gaining any ground. And she points out that the media have been tracking efforts by the American Chemistry Council – the main trade group of the chemical industry – to push back against bag bans and fees.

Have bag bans or fees made their way to where you live? If so, how has that impacted your behavior and that of your neighbors? Do you think these kinds of laws work? If no rules are in place were you live, have you noticed if people have become more likely to decline a bag or bring their own bag out of awareness of environmental/litter issues?

4 Comments

  • Aug 29th 201108:08
    by John Spevacek

    Cereplast has a page showing all the bag bans around the world.

  • Aug 30th 201111:08
    by Christine Herman

    I’m in Urbana, IL, and at several grocery stores, they will pay you 5 cents for each disposable bag you bring in. If you don’t bring in any, they’ll let you use plastic bags at no charge. Besides these incentives, I don’t think there are any rules against the use of plastics around here… yet.

  • Aug 31st 201109:08
    by Melody Bomgardner

    Hi John,
    Thanks for the Cereplast link. I find it very interesting that the very first place to ban plastic bags was the French island of Corsica (back in 19990. In 2002, the first large country banned plastic bags. It was…. Bangladesh! I would not have guessed.

    Christine – Thanks for the update on Urbana. I’m not sure what forces may need to be in play to bring down bag use voluntarily. My reading of reports from various places like the UK suggests that only a tax on plastic bags (or an outright ban, of course) actually works. In New York state where I live, the local grocer has a similar bonus (it may be 3 cents). In most non-grocery stores here, if you buy just a few items, the cashier asks if you want a bag, in a particular tone that suggests you ought to say “no, thank you.” I’m cool with that and usually juggle five or fewer items as I’m going out the door.

  • Feb 24th 201200:02
    by steve

    Plastic Bags? Is that the best you can do?
    Let’s ban all plastic!
    A plastic bag weighs 1/10 of a gram.
    There are 270 pounds of plastic in your car.
    Every toy your kid has is 95% plastic.
    The lap top you are using right now is 92% plastic.
    Plastic is fossil oil and chemicals bonded permanently and can not be recycled.
    80% of the fossil oil used is used to produce plastic.
    If you really want to make a difference, Stop using plastic products. Try to use metal where you can.
    All metal is 100% recyclable.
    Lets wise up and start taking better care of Earth

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