Thursday, July 12, 2012

What is all the commotion with plastic bags?

You may have heard in the news about the latest city to enact a “bag ban”. Why and what is the big deal?  I must say that before a few months ago, I didn’t realize the huge problem that plastic bags cause. We have all seen them caught in trees and fences and blowing across the road to get caught in a farmer’s field or flow down a stream. But, did you know that plastic bag litter is the second largest ocean litter material? It is only surpassed by cigarette butts.

The problem with these bags stems from their ability to float away in the air and in the water. They don’t degrade very quickly at all, taking roughly 450 years in water and 1,000 years on land.

Turtles, seals, sharks, birds, whales, and many other land and sea animals (roughly 100,000 a year) are entangled, choke to death, or starve because of ingesting plastic bags that are not digestible. (

As if that isn’t enough, they cause litter problems, consume non-renewable resources in their production (oil), and cause floods. Yes floods. Bangladesh banned them completely in 2002. They found that they were clogging the drainage and sewage systems that ultimately caused the massive floods in 1998 (and also in 1988).  

Back in college, I remember one of my professors talking about Ireland. They put a 15 cent tax on each plastic bag the consumer used. It spurred people to bring their own bags, milk crates, and baskets when they went shopping. Their plastic bag litter problem went down to nearly nothing and roughly 90% of stores stopped offering them because they weren’t needed. Back then, I hadn’t heard of any community to do this and now you hear about at least one a week.

We are catching on here in the US. Since the beginning of the year 42 cities have enacted plastic bag bans which bring our total to 79. (Plastics News, July 2012) Granted, most of these cities are in California, who seems well on their way to a state-wide ban, but it is a start for sure. Several other cities in the West have done the same.

Now, SB3442 in IL is looking to go a different route. The bill, now awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature, creates an environment where bag and plastic film manufacturers wishing to sell bags in the state, have to register, create a recycling plan, and show percentages of bags ad films collected versus what they sold. It goes further, thanks to lobbying efforts in the plastic bag industry, to prohibit municipalities with fewer than 2 Million people, which only excludes Chicago, from enacting bans of their own. Check it out.

Many groups, organizations, and municipalities are upset with this bill because it takes away their home-rule authority and doesn’t go far enough to protect land, water, and animal life. Have you researched this at all? What do you think about it?


  1. The problem with these bags stems from their ability to float away in the air and in the water. They don’t customized carrier bags
    degrade very quickly at all, taking roughly 450 years in water and 1,000 years on land.

    1. Exactly. Fortunately, Illinois municipalities will retain their ability to regulate bags as they see fit for their community. This is one time where big business did not get their way.

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