Becky Ross op ed 11/22/14

Let’s be a leader on reusable bags

Three years ago I seldom thought about single-use plastic bags. I used to only think about them when I had a pile of them so big I knew it was time to recycle. I also thought recycling was the perfect solution. That was before I really knew anything about plastic.

We use plastic bags an average of 12 minutes before throwing them away or recycling them. Single-use plastic bags don’t get recycled into new bags. They are down-cycled into carpet, decking or park benches, etc. So, it always takes new plastic to make more bags.

Only 5 percent of all single-use plastic bags actually get recycled. What happens to the other 95 percent? They end up floating around in our landscape and waterways. They do not biodegrade. They photo-degrade, which means they break down into smaller and smaller pieces. While this is happening they leach harmful chemicals into the land or water. They blow away from the landfills because they are so lightweight. Animals often eat this plastic and it usually means a painful death, as it will not digest.

Even the oceans are being affected. Every ocean now has a plastic gyre — a swirling mass of plastic — floating just below the surface. Because sea life ingests it, it ends up in our food chain. Those chemicals I mentioned earlier are showing up in humans.

Plastic bags also cost the public money because they get caught in drain systems and machinery, which have to be cleaned out. It’s a waste of time and energy.

Paper is not the answer. We need to grow more trees, not cut them down to make paper.

The best solution is to use a cloth reusable bag. Reusable bags can be used 700 plus times. They are very washable. I throw the dirty bags in with my weekly laundry.

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores, driven to action by pollution in streets and waterways. Plastic bags will be phased out of checkout counters at large grocery stores and supermarkets such as Walmart and Target starting next summer, and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, credits the momentum for statewide legislation to the more than 100 cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, that already have such bans.

The law marks a major milestone for environmental activists who have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Austin, and Seattle. Hawaii is on track to have a defacto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.

“This bill is a step in the right direction — it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown said in a signing statement. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

Changing to reusable bags is a simple matter of changing our habits, which will be good for the future of our planet. Getting people to understand “why” is the problem.

100Grannies.com For a Livable Future has partnered with the Iowa City Recycling Center for a “Bring Your Own Bag” promotion. We are asking retail stores to reduce their use of plastic bags and giving our seal of approval to those who do.

When we start thinking about the health of our planet, eliminating plastic bags from our environment is a crucial step. Let’s be a leader in Iowa and start the ball rolling here.

Becky Ross is a member of 100 Grannies For a Livable Future.

Comments are closed.