Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. Today, we will be talking about the most exciting topic known to mankind: plastic bags. Okay, you can click out of this page if you wish now. I completely understand. I won’t get offended. But if you’re still here, then I might as well get started.
The state of California recently made history in November 2017 by instituting the first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in the United States. Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags since all of its local counties banned the use of single-use plastic bags, but there is technically no official statewide ban in Hawaii. Proposition 67 was passed with only a 52% majority advocating for the ban of plastic bags. The ban was effective immediately for large grocery stores and pharmacies shortly after the votes were counted while smaller grocery, convenience, and liquor stores would have a year to implement these new measures. In addition to prohibiting single-use plastic bags in certain stores, this proposition also requires stores to charge at least ten cents for any carryout bags. Since only a slight majority of voters pushed this proposition through, many California consumers were originally mildly annoyed at the news. (Some are still mildly annoyed over nine months after the ban was enacted).
I will admit, I voted against the plastic bag ban in November. The thought of paying ten cents for a carryout bag if I forgot to bring my own bag was unbearable to me at the time, for some reason. After doing some research, however, I definitely understand why one would vote “yes” on this proposition. For one, plastic bags indirectly promote waste accumulation. Because they are so inexpensive, before the proposition was enacted, stores freely gave away plastic bags without taking into account where those bags would end up days, weeks, months, and years later. In California, about 15 billion single-use plastic bags were handed out per year, or about 400 bags for every Californian annually. So where do these bags end up after their single use? According to National Geographic , many plastic bags end up in the ocean where they can choke and starve marine life at the ocean’s surface. In addition, these bags can contaminate food chains by disrupting hormone levels in animals, according to Elaine Ritch et al. in the International Journal of Consumer Studies . (Toxic chemicals are present in plastic bags). Disrupted hormone levels can result in immune and nervous system defects as well as other deformities and even death. These hormones are transferred from mother to child via breast milk, which can result in countless generations of deformed animals in our oceans. Furthermore, marine life can often mistake floating litter (usually plastic bags) for food. Consumption of the plastic and all the other toxic chemicals present in these bags can cause death or impairment to the animal. Think about it now. 15 billion single-use plastic bags were handed out yearly in California. How many of those bags ended up in the ocean? And how many marine animals did those bags kill? Since plastic takes approximately 400 to 1000 years to fully degrade, having it present in large amounts in our environment can have lasting effects. In oceans, plastics slowly decompose and release toxins into the oceans as they degrade, according to the American Chemical Society. This means that even if marine animals do not directly consume the plastic, their environments are still polluted with toxins from the plastic bags. The accumulation of single-use plastic bags in our oceans has caused much suffering and near-extinction for many species of marine life. We are currently on the verge of another mass extinction event focused on our oceans, according to the New York Times , and even though plastic bags are not the only reason for this mass extinction event, they certainly are not helping. My reluctance to spend ten more cents on a bag if I forget to bring my own bag to the grocery store or pharmacy certainly pales in comparison to a marine mass extinction event.
When I chose to vote against this proposition, one of my arguments was that plastic bags could always be recycled in order to minimize harm to the environment. What I didn’t realize, however, is that single-use plastic bags are difficult to recycle because they typically get tangled in recycling machines. Because they are difficult to recycle, they usually end up somewhere else, whether that is on the streets, stuck in trees, or in the oceans. In addition, this proposition does not cause the consumer to bear too heavy of a burden. Yes, it will cost you ten cents if you forget to bring a bag. So, what’s the solution? Remember to bring a bag. It was always that simple. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that when I was filling out my ballot in November. All you have to do is invest in a few really good bags and then you’re set for the next year or so when it comes to carrying your grocery and pharmacy items. Just make sure you remember to bring them, of course.
Researching plastic bags and their environmental effects taught me two very important things. One of them is how uninformed I actually am as a voter. Of course, it’s nearly impossible for me to be an expert on every single issue on the ballot, but I should at least take the time to learn more about propositions that I plan to vote on. If I’m being honest, I just took one look at the first sentence of the proposition and decided “no” right away. That’s how much I didn’t want to risk spending ten extra cents on a grocery bag. The second thing I learned was how small the individual is compared to the scope of the issues. Sure, the proposition slightly inconveniences me and other individuals. But it can possibly reduce the cost of waste management for local governments and slow down the extinction of certain marine species and possibly give them some time to replenish their populations. (I understand that many other factors are plaguing our marine life. But having one factor that harms our marine life reduced still makes a difference). I have to understand that preserving biodiversity in our oceans is much more important than my slight annoyance of having to spend ten more cents due to my own forgetfulness.
You’ve made it to the end! Thanks for reading my article on plastic bags. It’s not the most exciting topic, but you made it! Congratulations!
*And yes, plastic bags are constantly "drifting through the wind" and "wanting to start again" because they are not easily recycled. People tend to just throw them on the ground after a single use, so they drift through the wind and end up stuck in trees and in oceans, releasing hazardous chemicals into their environments as they degrade gradually over a span of 400 to 1000 years. They can't start again because they get tangled in the recycling machines rather than actually being recycled and starting anew. I just thought it would be nice to relate the Katy Perry lyric I used as click bait to this topic. And sorry to all who thought this article was going to be about Katy Perry. I hope you're not too upset.