"All the problems we face can be dealt with using existing technologies. And almost everything we need to do to move the world economy back onto an environmentally sustainable path has already been done in one or more countries." –Lester R. Brown, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
Embargoed for Release
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Earth Policy Institute Details the Downfall of the Plastic Bag
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On April 22, Earth Day 2014, Earth Policy Institute (EPI) released a comprehensive, up-to-date database and report on plastic bag bans and fees in the United States. Together with a timeline of the brief history of the plastic bag and a map of anti-bag legislation, the report reveals the growing movement against single-use bags.
Currently over 20 million Americans live in communities with anti-plastic bag laws on the books, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Boulder, Olympia, and Washington, DC. With new legislation proposed in a number of areas, including New York City, Chicago, and the state of California, this figure is sure to grow.
While now ubiquitous, the plastic bag has a relatively short history. Many American customers disliked plastic bags when they were introduced in 1976, but retailers continued to push for them because they were cheaper and more compact than paper. Now more than a generation of Americans can hardly conceive of shopping without being offered a plastic bag at the checkout counter. Some 100 billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year—about six bags per person each week.
“Plastic bags are cheap, but that is because we are not paying the full cost of using them. Turning natural gas or petroleum that formed over millions of years into a plastic bag that is used for mere minutes before disposal reflects the audacity of our throwaway economy,” notes Janet Larsen, Director of Research for the Earth Policy Institute. “Particularly egregious is that plastic can break into smaller pieces, but it doesn’t disappear. In the environment, plastic stays with us, fouling landscapes and turning the oceans into ‘plastic soup’.”
The United States is not alone in its struggle to reduce the use of throwaway plastic bags. EPI will also soon release a report on international bag legislation. Plastic bags have been banned with varying degrees of effectiveness in Italy, India, Rwanda, and many parts of Australia, for example. Elsewhere, taxes or fees are more common. Consumers in Botswana, China, Ireland, Malta, and South Africa are obligated by law to pay for their plastic bags. European Union countries are required to implement plastic bag reduction measures to cut plastic bag use 80 percent by 2019.
Janet Larsen is available to comment on trends in plastic bags in advance of and following EPI’s report release. To schedule an interview, contact Reah Janise Kauffman at (202) 496-9290 ext. 12 (rjk (at) earth-policy.org) or Janet Larsen at (202) 496-9290 ext. 14 (jlarsen (at) earth-policy.org).