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BYOB: Bring your own bag (or pay for plastic)

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Image by Tim Simms, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Image by Tim Simms, via Wikimedia Commons

Consumers might have to think twice before loading up on plastic bags for their groceries.

Indiana House Bill 1521, authored by Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh, (D-Crown Point) would charge ten cents for each disposable plastic bag used at retail stores. The money would be distributed to support education and the development of green industries. Businesses are also required to carry reusable bags for customers to purchase instead.

The bill certainly has its critics. Republican State Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) told Fox 41:

"Folks are struggling enough, trying to pay utility bills and grocery bills and just living," he said. "So any step that would increase that cost...I just can not be a part of it."

That's not a good argument, though. There are plenty of frugal alternatives to plastic bags. Reusable bags would be the most economical. They are cheap, and if the plastic bags tax passed, they would pay for themselves in just a few shopping trips. And god forbid you got creative: Your options are endless — from old pillow cases to jeans. (Get more ideas here.)

Around the world, legislation banning or taxing plastic bags has been successful at significantly reducing their use. In Washington, D.C., a five-cent tax reduced the use of plastic bags from 270 million to 55 million in 2010 — the first year the law was in place. Ireland's plastic bag tax cut their use by 90 percent in its first year. And in San Francisco, reusable plastic bags are completely banned.

Why do we think of disposable plastic bags as a right anyway? The lifespan of a plastic bag is often from the store to your house and then off to the landfill. And whether we know it or not they haunt us in their pre-life and afterlife. Petroleum is used to manufacture plastic bags and they don't magically disappear once they reach the landfill. Scientists say they could be around for hundreds of years.

Plastic bag recycling proposals just don't do the trick. According to the EPA, 30 million tons of plastic waste was generated in 2009, but it was recycled at a rate of only nine percent. Even if we recycle plastic to make new plastic, we're just putting of the inevitable. Plastic lasts longer than we do. And we need something to slow the use of plastic — especially for unnecessary uses like plastic shopping bags.

That's why even though Rep. Vandenburgh's legislation wouldn't completely ban plastic bags, it still moves us in the right direction. It makes reusable bags the most economical choice, and inevitably cuts down the use of plastic bags.

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