Banning plastic bags is an easy solution to a complex problem

    Five trillion plastic bags are produced yearly and only a fraction of them being recycled. (turtlemom4bacon/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Five trillion plastic bags are produced yearly and only a fraction of them being recycled. (turtlemom4bacon/Flickr Creative Commons)

Over the past few years, as our environment has shifted and changed due to the effects of climate change, so have our trips to the grocery store. Specifically, our trips to the checkout line. In the past, the question at the end of any checkout line was, “Would you like paper or plastic?” But lately, the increasingly popular question has been, “Did you bring any reusable bags?” Or even more recently, “Would you like to purchase a bag for that?”

Now more than ever, people are becoming increasingly concerned with our environment, with good reason. The changes we have seen in our climate over the past decades are scary and there is no denying that. However, while the causes and effects of climate change may seem very large scale to most people, (as in caused by huge oil spills or massive factory fume emissions) what many people don’t realize is that many of the worst things for our environment are everyday objects. Exhibit A: plastic shopping bags.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I personally always feel a little bit guilty when I get to the end of my grocery run and forget my reusable bags in the car. Then there’s the knowing that I could easily go back to my car to get the reusable bags, followed by the decision that “I’ll just use them next time.” But, with five trillion plastic bags produced yearly, and only a fraction of them being recycled, every single unnecessarily used plastic bag counts. For this reason, many cities and towns across America are taking matters into their own hands to enact plastic bag fees and bans in order to stop a dangerous household product from destroying our environment.

Many places have already hopped on board the plastic ban bandwagon and have seen varying levels of success. In 2016, California put a ban on single-use plastic bags throughout the entire state, and since then has shown decreases in both the amount of bags they use and the amount of cleanup caused by bag usage. Californians once used nearly 13 billion single-use plastic bags per year, and many of those often went on to be littered and end up in the ocean, adding fodder to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Since the ban was enacted, Californians have been encouraged to bring reusable shopping bags, or when they fail to do so, they can purchase thicker reusable plastic bags for only ten cents a piece. The ban has proved effective in both changing the amount of plastic pollution on California’s beaches (lowering the amount from 7.4% to 3.1% out of the total amount of garbage), but it has also been helpful in changing the way residents think about their plastic use and the way they treat their environment.

Ireland, among other countries, has also had success in adding a fee to plastic bag usage. Back in 2002, the country began charging 15 euro cents for the use of plastic bags in their grocery stores. Since the fee was enacted, plastic bag use has dropped “from an estimated 328 to 14 per person” annually. This is a huge decrease in plastic use, and while it may seem like plastic does not impact our environment as much as car exhaust or factory waste, plastic bags are just as impactful and a much cheaper and easier problem to resolve.

Here at UConn, students are offered plastic bags from the Student Union, the convenience store, grocery stores and the bookstore, just to name a few. While you yourself may not use many bags yourself during the day, they still add up over the course of the school year, whether you realize it or not. Stopping the use of these plastic bags, while it may seem inconsequential to many, could keep thousands or even millions of plastic bags from being littered onto our streets and oceans, and would help to put a small dent in the overarching problem of plastic bags in America.

Truthfully, a plastic bag ban or tax seems like a fairly easy solution to a complicated problem. While there are obviously many moving parts and legislation that needs to be passed to get an actual ban of these items in Connecticut or the United States as a whole, you do not need these things to make a change yourself. Making even a personal change, even one as small as using reusable bags during your shopping trips, can make a difference. If our government won’t advocate for these issues, then it is the little differences each individual makes that will count.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.