Friday, April 1, 2011

The Problem of Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are a true menace to our ecosystems and our waste diversion goals. Barely recyclable, almost all of the 400 plastic bags used per second in the state are discarded. Once discarded, they either enter our landfills or our marine ecosystem.

People think of plastic bags as being free. Instead, they actually cost taxpayers millions every year. In San Francisco alone, City officials estimate that they spend $8.5 million annually to deal with plastic bag litter. That equates to around 17 cents for every bag distributed in the city. Additionally:

* It costs the state $25 million annually to manage plastic bag pollution.
* Public agencies in California spend in excess of $303 million annually in litter abatement.
* Southern California cities have spent in excess of $1.7 billion in meeting Total Maximum Daily Loads for trashed in impaired waterways.
* Cities and recyclers spend incalculable amounts removing plastic bags from their recyclables stream, where they jam machinery and add to the manual labor costs of recycling.

At least 267 species have been scientifically documented to be adversely affected by plastic marine debris and it is estimated to kill over 100,000 marine mammals and turtles each year. Plastic bags are considered especially dangerous to sea turtles, who may mistake them for jellyfish, a main food source. 86% of all known species of sea turtles have had reported problems of entanglement or ingestion of marine debris. Plastic bags that enter our marine environment eventually break down into small fragments.

Plastic bags, which are made from natural gas or oil, consume an energy equivalent of thousands of barrels of oil a day just to meet California's consumption. Numerous recent international, national, state and local reports have called for the banning or drastic reduction of plastic bags due to their environmental damage. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environmental Program, recently said "there is simply zero justification for manufacturing [plastic bags] any more, anywhere."

Thanks to Californians Against Waste

Kathy Dowsett
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