In the land of the free and the home of convenience, we, as a society, seem to overlook the small things that have had major consequences. We drive short distances, emitting air pollution, when we could instead ride bikes or walk. We choose junk and fast food, resulting in bulging waistbands and diabetes, over fresh and healthy meals. We choose the cheap and easy over the tried, true and better for the environment and even our health. And the battle over the single-use plastic bag rages on.
Though many people have staged their own boycott of single-use bags found at retailers and grocery stores, using reusable bags in their place, the value of these convenient plastic bags seems immeasurable to many people. But the cost — well, that appears to be regularly glossed over.
According to the World Watch Institute, Americans throw away around 100 billion plastic bags every year. It also reported that one plastic bag takes approximately 1,000 years to biodegrade. These discarded bags then make it into our oceans, killing tens of thousands of sea animals, including whales, birds, seals and turtles. But the cycle continues after the animals die, since the bags don’t break down easily and the toxic chemicals are further digested by other animals. The bags, at some point, may even become a part of our own diets.
While most of us remain unaffected, directly, by what is happening in our oceans, plastic bags become a part of the landscape, resulting in unsightly litter, wreaking havoc on our waterways and clogging our storm-water drains. While we gripe about landfills as unsightly eyesores, we apparently fail to recognize that approximately 20,000 tons of plastic-bag waste ends up there every year. There is also concern that the dyes and inks used in some plastic bags contain toxic chemicals, such as lead. We mustn’t forget the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated to be the size of Texas, is primarily made up of plastic debris.
Despite the damage we cause to our environment, and possibly even to ourselves, many still protest the idea of banning single-use plastic bags and have threatened to boycott grocery stores and various retailers who follow such a law, saying they will drive to other towns and shop at those markets where bags aren’t banned. It seems willful ignorance abounds for the sake of convenience, which is unfortunate for everyone.
In the coming weeks, the Ojai City Council will be discussing a ban for its local grocers and retailers. It would require these businesses to use recycled paper bags, with no less than 40 percent recycled content and 100 percent recyclable material and customers would be charged at least 10 cents per bag unless they use their own reusable bags. (The Ventura City Council toyed with the notion of such a ban last year, but it seemed to fall by the wayside.) This law would follow other counties and cities across the country, such as Los Angeles County, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, that have banned single-use plastic bags. The California Supreme Court also recently decided that cities are not required to do expensive environmental impact reports on how a ban would affect a particular community and they could enact such a law with a City Council vote.
While it may seem rather controversial to enact yet another law that hampers our ability to live as we choose, there really isn’t anything truly beneficial for anyone to continue down this path of pointless waste. If we have a better alternative (say, reusable canvas bags that we can wash to make sure they remain clean and sterile for our food), we should opt for it. Though there aren’t perfect solutions to this problem (perhaps a lawful ban isn’t the best choice), we shouldn’t choose the easiest, most convenient route just for the sake of it.