Plastic Bag Costs Called Staggering

Sep 03, 2003

By George Anderson

Plastic bags are used in approximately 80 percent of supermarket and convenience store transactions, helping to reduce retailer expenses while providing consumers with a sturdy and reliable tote for their groceries.

The downside, say critics, is plastic bags are often found discarded in places they have no place being, such as on the side of the road, in tree branches or in the stomachs of aquatic wildlife.

Vincent Cobb, who runs the Web site told National Geographic, “The numbers (of plastic bags) are absolutely staggering.”

Mr. Cobb and other concerned about the impact on the environment estimate one to three percent of disposable plastic bags wind up outside landfills.

Laurie Kusek, an American Plastics Council spokesperson, says the story of plastic bags is not about errant bags flopping around the side of the road. “We also feel it is important to understand that plastic grocery bags are some of the most reused items around the house,” she said. “Many, many bags are reused as book and lunch bags as kids head off to school, as trash can liners, and to pickup Fido’s droppings off the lawn.”

Others, however, suggest that even the small percentage of bags that “escape” from homes and landfills is too high. Ireland and other national and local governments have implemented or considered a bag tax.

Tony Lowes, director of Friends of the Irish Environment in County Cork, said the introduction of a 20 cents tax on plastic bags in March 2002 helped reduce the use of bags 95 percent in the Republic.

Moderator’s Comment: What voluntary actions can the
industry take to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and bags? Is legislation,
in the form of a tax or other action, needed to adequately address the issue?

This is one of those “It’s someone else’s problem” issues
as companies point to all the steps they’ve taken to improve the environment.
Still, problems persist.

It’s hard to imagine a society built on convenience and
disposability shifting to one focused on the reduction and reuse of materials
without either a figurative carrot or stick being used to help modify behavior.
Anderson – Moderator

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