Hooray for Hawaii.
There are many reasons it would be great to be more like Hawaii. The state’s beautiful beaches, surf and sand, shockingly blue water, and distinctive mountains are just a few enticements. But now we have another motivation for wanting to emulate the state - last week Hawaii became the first state to ban stores from handing plastic bags to customers at checkout. (California passed a law last year that was set to go into effect this July but a petition delayed it until a November 2016 referendum).
We applaud Hawaii’s move as a great first step toward reducing the one trillion plastic bags used every year worldwide. In our own home state, Tybee Island officials this spring held a first reading of an ordinance that would have banned single-use plastic bags citywide. While that proposal was ultimately delayed to hammer out logistics, we see this as a step in the right direction.
Plastic bags may be convenient – they are light and inexpensive compared to paper bags – but their environmental impact is ghastly. Groups who push for laws to limit their use say they are wasteful, harm wildlife and linger as litter for centuries. While there are several large cities who require stores to charge fees for plastic bags (Washington, D.C., Dallas and Boulder); others have banned the disposable bags altogether (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Austin).
Unfortunately, this spring here in Georgia the Senate passed a bill that outlaws local bans on plastic bags. It prevents cities from regulating “auxiliary containers” at all, which include bags, takeout containers and throwaway cups. Lawmakers said the bill is intended to help businesses who are “sensitive to the costs and regulation of auxiliary containers.” But we believe American business men and women are the most innovative folks around and will find other, less impactful ways to get their goods in the hands of buyers.
Old plastic bags find their way to lots of places – piled up underneath our kitchen sinks for one – but most wind up in landfills and our oceans. Americans alone throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil per year to manufacture, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It’s hard to imagine grocery and retail store clerks not handing us our recently-purchased items in the pliable brown plastic containers, but that plastic works its way into tributaries, lakes and oceans where it ultimately breaks down into smaller pieces and is consumed by marine animals. Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it and single plastic bag can take up to 500 years or more to degrade. According to data from the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanups, plastic bags are consistently in the top 10 pieces of trash found on beaches around the world.
That’s just disturbing.
Our grandparents wouldn’t have relied on plastics the way we do today. And they wouldn’t have thrown things out the way we do today. Reducing our reliance on plastic bags is a great first step but, unfortunately, they are but one byproduct of our litter-producing culture. Plastic water bottles are another modern creation our grandparents would likely have scoffed at.
So now, let’s join Hawaii in our own small way and do our part to reduce plastics in our ecosystem. We encourage everyone to use canvas bags when shopping. Stuff them in your car and haul them out whenever you head into a store. By doing this one small thing you can save a sea turtle or a bird from mistaking your used plastic bag as food and reduce the two million plastic bags being used every minute around the world.