Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Cost of Plastic Bags

Let’s face it – they’re a scourge.

On average, each person uses 300 bags a year. Collectively, the people of BC use 1.2 billion bags a year, using 18 million litres of the world’s oil supply a year, releasing 50,400 tonnes of CO2. (Data via San Francisco’s Department of the Environment).

The Stern Review estimated the purely economic cost of climate change to be $100 a tonne of CO2, so the cost that future generations will have to pay for our use of the bags will be $5 million a year. We use them for 30 minutes and they sit in a landfill for up to 1,000 years, slowly breaking down into smaller toxic bits.

Even if we recycle them, the recycled plastic is not used to make more bags. Every year, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die from eating plastic bags they mistake for food: there are over 46,000 pieces of plastic in each square mile of ocean.
The solution is to ban them, or tax them. Ireland’s “PlasTax” of 23 cents a bag has led to a 95% reduction in their use.

In San Francisco, they have voted to ban their use at supermarket checkouts within 6 months, and in large chain pharmacies within a year; compostable bags made from corn starch and recycled paper bags made will still be allowed.

Leaf Rapids, Manitoba (pop’n 550) started with a fee a year ago, and has now adopted a ban. The French island of Corsica banned the bags in large stores in 1999; Paris has just banned all non-biodegradable bags. By 2010, they will be banned all across France.

Ireland’s Plastax (increasing to 33 cents a bag in June) reduced consumer use from 328 bags a year to 21, raises $28 million a year, and has raised $140 million since 2002, used to provide more recycling facilities, enforce waste management regulations, recycle old fridges and freezers, run waste awareness campaigns, and to launch a very successful Green Schools initiative. It would make sense for BC to do the same.

It would also be a feel-good measure, as people get used to carrying cloth bags.

From EcoNEWS

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