Italy to Ban Single Use Plastic Bags

Posted: December 29, 2010 in Being Green

As the clock strikes 2011 in Italy – single use plastic bags will now be banned.  This is something I think we should have implemented in the US years ago as these plastic bags add to the landfill and are easily avoided if people would simply buy  reusable bag (they cost $1 and can be used 100s if not 1000s of times).  They are also much stronger, have a much more comfortable handle to carry items, are larger inside, and better looking.  Plus by not throwing away wasted bags or littering them, they save us room in landfills, and reduce litter on side of roads.  Plastic bags are also ingested by animals most often causing death to that animal.

There seems to be a sliding scale of what gov’ts can do:

  • Do nothing (KS is like this)
  • Require change over to biodegradable single use plastic bags (which aren’t as strong), enforce plastic bag recycling at stores (however adoption of such is low).
  • Encourage use of reusable bags, such as by passing a law to pass on the cost of using single use bags to the consumers who buy them.  Slowly raise this cost to become more prohibitive as the industry gets behind it and consumers change habits.
  • Slowly adopt other strategies to reduce consumers’ reliance on single use bags by phasing them out entirely
  • Ban them altogether like “cold turkey”

It seems such a trivial problem.  However, Italy uses 20 billion single use bags a year – now Imagine what the US uses or just the state of NY, CA or TX.  It takes ~ 1 gallon of diesel to produce (that is about 1 1/2 gallons of oil) ~ 100 plastic bags.  Plus the bags must be transported nationwide to the stores.  These costs are passed through to the consumer (albeit a small one).  Plus it takes decades for each bag to biodegrade (imagine the billions of plastic bags littering the road sides and buried in landfills).

Italy is not alone as San Francisco and San Diego have already done banned their use.  Soon it looks like the states of CA and OR will be banning them statewide.  The costs associated with consumers is small, as the impact on the residents has largely unaffected commerce.  The major downside is that those who do not adopt (or forget) reusable bags would have to rely on paper bags which are 5x more costly to produce and use more resources.  These costs will be passed onto consumers it seems.  But if it encourages responsible use of reusable bags then we should all be better off.  Plus paper bags are much easier to recycle and much better for the environment b/c they can quickly biodegrade.


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