Plastic bags are an environmental scourge: they pile up our landfills, pollute the oceans, and choke wildlife. Hawaii has taken a stand against the wasteful and toxic practice of single-use plastic bags by becoming the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags at checkout counters.
Customers can bring their own reusable bags to local shops, or use paper bags across Hawaii. No other U.S. states has yet banned omnipresent plastic bags; several cities have though, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Portland, and Washington, D.C.
One very well-known policy against plastic was Ireland’s national tax on non-biodegradable plastic bags, adopted in 2002. The tax charges consumers directly, starting at a rate of 15 euro cents per bag. Within five months of the measure's introduction, bag usage fell by over 90%. Litter on the streets was also greatly reduced. Professor Frank Convery of University College Dublin has called Ireland’s plastic bag levy “the most popular tax in Europe” and believes that it would be politically damaging to remove it. Let’s hope more countries and states follow the plastic-eradication measures of Ireland and Hawaii.
Plastic bags are wasteful, but thankfully it’s very easy to instead carry your shopping in cloth or other reusable bags. Many communities, including Hawaii, looking at plastic bag reduction hope to emulate the success of Ireland’s plastic bag tax.
But what about all the other plastic we use and dispose daily? Most of the things we buy use disposable plastic: packaging, cosmetics bottles, straws, water fountain cups in offices. Many plastics are designed to be used only once, leading to our landfills, beaches, and oceans being choked in single-use plastic debris.
Plastic isn't biodegradable, and the US is one of the biggest contributors to ocean garbage patches, often described as floating islands of trash. Even if you conscientiously reuse your plastic bags, they likely still end up sitting in a landfill or adding to the 28 billion pounds of plastic already in our ocean, where they may be ingested by or otherwise harm marine animals. In other words, whether or not you live in an area where plastic bags are already banned, it's a good idea to opt for a reusable bag. Store reusable grocery bags in the trunk of your car or opt for a lightweight option that can be folded down and attached to your keychain. Hanging a reusable bag by your front door can also help ensure you never leave home without it.