We all know how terrible plastic bags are for the environment—they choke wildlife, they don’t break down in landfills (or in oceans), they add to our demand for oil, and they aren’t easy to recycle, which is the biggest reason why 90 percent of plastic bags in the U.S. are not recycled.
Yet an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year—380 billion of those in the U.S.—and governments have been slow-moving at best to do anything about them.
Starting January 1, 2011, single-use non-biodegradable plastic bags will be outlawed in Italy. And while plenty of questions remain about the ban’s rules and efficacy, it’s a considerable leap, seeing as how Italy uses 25% of all the plastic bags in Europe — around 25 billion a year.
Neighboring Bulgaria‘s move to impose a tax on plastic bags as of July 1, 2011, as reported in the Sophia Echo is only the latest attempt across Eastern Europe and the Middle East to discourage the use of disposable bags.
The nascent Environment Ministry in Syria – where an estimated 15 million bags are consumed each day just Damascus and the area around in the capital — has distributed fabric and paper bags to markets as part of a campaign to get people to just say “no” to plastic bags. While paper bags are not particularly environmentally friendly in their manufacture, they pose less of a danger to animals.
In the United Arab Emirates, dead camels have been found with lumps of plastic in their stomach weighing up to 30 kilograms — the equivalent of 4,000 plastic bags. According to the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water, which plans to ban plastic bags in the UAE by 2012, 85 percent of emirate residents “say they have heard or read about the detrimental effects of plastic bags, but fewer than half do anything about it.”
Turkey is also taking slow steps toward breaking the plastic-bag habit, though they have not been without some implementation troubles. The Kadıköy district of Istanbul was praised last year for being the first municipality in Turkey to ban plastic bags.
In California, the ban started in San Francisco in select stores; if pending legislation goes through, it could soon expand to all stores not only in the city, but in the entire state. A similar ban exists in coastal North Carolina and was recently passed in Portland.
In 2007, Modbury became the first town to ban the plastic bag in Britain, where 13 billion plastic bags are given away every year. If customers forget to bring their own, reports the Times Online, “a range of bags made of recycled cotton with organic and fairtrade certification will be available from £1.50 to £3.95 and cheaper paper and biodegradeable cornstarch bags will cost 5p and 10p.” Other cities have followed suit, some just a few months ago, and there are efforts to make London plastic bag-free by the time the Olympics come around in 2010. According to the Daily Mail, “Londoners use 1.6billion plastic bags a year – for an average of just 20 minutes per bag.”
Mexico City adopted a ban last summer—the second major city in the western hemisphere to do so.
India seems to be taking the lead in bans on plastic bags, although enforcement is sometimes questionable. Cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Vasco, Rajasthan all have a ban on the bag.
A ban went into effect (with little notice) in Rangoon, Burma, late last year.
In neighboring China, the use of plastic bags is restricted.
Plastic bags have been banned in Bangladesh since 2002, after being found to be responsible for the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged most of the country.
Rwanda is the country, which has had a ban on plastic bags for years, has a reputation for being one of the cleanest nations not only on the continent, but in the world.
Sydney’s Oyster Bay was the first Australian suburb to ban plastic bags. Twelve towns in Australia are now said to be plastic bag-free—an effort to cut down on the estimated 6.7 billion plastic bags used in Australia every year.
Filed Under: Environment