Plastic bag bans: Are they really worth it?

Gavin Parsons, Marine Photobank: Image taken from: https://ocean.si.edu/conservation/pollution/plastic-bag-bans-work

There is no question that pollution and climate change are issues that are taking our world by storm. As new laws are put in place to add taxes to plastic bags or to ban them completely, it begs the question, are bans really going to work?

Everyday, people use disposable plastic products. Straws, cups, forks, bottles and, one of the most impactful, plastic bags. Plastic bags are easy to use, disposable, and many people use them for these reasons. However, are the benefits of them really worth the costs?

There is a shockingly large amount of plastic that is polluting our oceans. It endangers animals and leads to the emission of more greenhouse gases. According to ABC News, plastic bags clog storm drains and entangle and kill an estimated 100,000 marine animals annually.

The average plastic bag is used for about 12 minutes but they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. People use about 500 billion single-use bags per year. This averages out to 150 bags per person.

The concept of reducing plastic usage seems easy, but it is harder than it seems. People have been building the habit to use these disposable bags for years and it’s a habit that is hard to break. 

According to ABC News, only three states in the U.S. have passed laws that ban single-use plastics like plastic bags. California, Hawaii, and New York are those three states. Other states like Delaware, Maine, and Rhode Island have mandatory recycling/reuse programs but plastic bags are not banned or taxed.

Ten states have placed bans on banning plastic bags. These states include Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. These bans restrict the ability to control and ban plastic-bag usage. The bans in these ten states ban laws similar to the ones in California and Rhode Island from being enforced.

This encourages us to ask the question, are plastic bag bans really worth it?

According to “Plastic Bag Bans Work” from the Smithsonian, in 2002, Ireland made a simple change by adding a 15 cent tax on plastic bags in stores. They hoped that the tax would help people notice their habits and convince them to bring reusable bags. After the tax was put in place, plastic bag use went down 90 percent. Many shoppers ended up agreeing with the tax and were able to see the benefits.

Plastic bag bans work (at least in tax form)! They have made a noticeable difference in Ireland and have the chance to make an impact all over the world. Enforcing bans across the United States could show an amazing change; especially for marine life!

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