Single-Use Plastic Bags

Ø Single use plastic grocery bags are the second most common form of trash in the world. They are second only to cigarette butts. (Ocean Conservancy, 2008; Keep America Beautiful, 2009).
Ø Plastic bags are used for about 10 minutes but are “everlasting” in the environment.
Ø A 2009 research study showed that while US litter due to beverage containers, glass, papers etc has declined since 1969 by 70-80%, the volume of plastic litter (including bags) has increased by 165%. (kab. org/research2009).
Ø It is estimated that between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used globally every year. Or put another way, 1-2 million bags per minute!
Ø 500 billion bags =135 million barrels of oil.
Ø Of these, the US uses 100 billion bags per year, (WSJ), equivalent to approx 330 bags per year for every man/woman/child in the USA. So a typical family of four will dispose of 1,300 plastic bags every year.( In other words, every three families consume a barrel of oil just for their plastic bag use).
Ø The overwhelming majority of the US population does not understand the harm that these plastic bags inflict on animals, marine life, humans, and the environment.   Plastic bags kill wildlife and these creatures die mainly out of sight. Also out of sight, they kill marine life which dies of either entanglement or ingestion. According to Dr. Lavers, a seabird ecologist, 96 percent of seabirds have plastic in their intestines.
Ø On land, plastic bags fill up our landfills, they clog our storm drains, they disrupt our appreciation of many of nature’s pristine landscapes, and they never degrade.
Ø Human Health: Plastic bags create a health problem: Plastics are made from petrochemicals which release a variety of toxins during the entire life cycle of plastic—from production through use and disposal. A recent Ocean Conservancy study found that 9% of the fish in the Pacific gyre contained plastic in their stomachs-mostly broken down into tiny trash. This is particularly disturbing because the fish connect the bottom rung of the food chain (plankton) to higher levels up the food chain. And according to Liza Kaas Boyle, Plastic Pollution Coalition, research is demonstrating that these toxins such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates appear to be inflicting terrible health consequences on humans. Not only do plastics release the chemicals that were used in their manufacture, they also act like sponges in the marine environment and accumulate additional toxic chemicals like PCB’s and DDT’s from the surrounding water. Toxic plastic fragments have, therefore, entered our human food chain through their ingestion by the oceans` fish.
Ø The Consumer: Plastic bags have been cleverly marketed as “free”, abundant, disposable tools that facilitate our quality of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are, in fact, environmentally as well as economically, expensive. The plastic bag manufacturers pocket their manufacturing profits while they cleverly pass off the subsequent downstream costs to local and state government agencies.
i) The effect on our environment : ocean, marshes, rivers. We are all familiar with the sight of plastic bags strewn along our roadsides, hanging on trees and hedges, in our rivers and creeks, or blowing across fields and beaches.
ii) Cost at landfills: Horry County officials estimate that they spend an extra $15,000 in labor costs per year due to the plastic bags that arrive into their facility. Statewide there are 17 landfills so this translates into additional landfill costs of approximately $250,000. This does not include the cost for actual space in the landfill that is required for the plastic bag trash.
Our SC recycling centers consider plastic bags to be a major menace to their operations. Unlike other categories such as newspaper, cardboard, aluminum cans etc, which can be sold off profitably by the recycling centers, there are almost no secondary markets for the single-use plastic bag. (Trex Recycling is the only company that I could find)! As a result, almost all of the plastic bags that arrive into our recycling centers simply end up in the landfill.
And If not successfully separated from other trash on arrival at the recycling center, the plastic bags jam up the recycling machinery and are the single largest cause of down-time at the centers. Horry County landfill personnel estimate that 25% of their labor costs go into removing plastic from the sorting machinery.
iii) Number of bags used in SC. Based on the average use of 330 bags per capita, South Carolina consumes and discards 1.5 billion plastic bags per year. People think these bags are “free”. Nothing could be further from the truth. At a low ballpark price of 2 cents per bag, 1.5 billion plastic bags per year represents an expense of $30 million cost to retailers that could be recovered if shoppers simply brought their own bags. For an average family of 4, using approx 1300 plastic bags per year, the cost to the retailer is $26 per year, per household. This cost would allow the retailer to either (i) provide 5 or more large reusable bags free to that family, or (ii) if the reusable bags were priced to simply recover cost, the retailer would increase their profits by $26 per family.
iv) Equivalent oil consumption; Manufacturing the 1.5Billion bags per year in SC consumes approximately 400,000 barrels of oil.
v) Cost to Animal life: As we have already learned, the cost to animals and birdlife is enormousJust a few examples;
Ø In Anderson, SC last year a local farmer had three goats die, only to discover that they had ingested pieces of plastic bags that had been chopped up in their hay feed, and then blocked their intestines, leading to their death
Ø On Sullivan`s Island a pygmy whale and it`s calf were found dead on the beach. The autopsy on the mother whale found it`s intestines totally blocked by a large plastic trash bag. The calf had refused to leave it`s mother`s side so it also perished from a lack of food from it`s mother.
Ø In our oceans, close to 200 species have been scientifically documented to be adversely affected by plastic marine debris which is estimated to kill over 100,000 marine mammals and turtles each year. Plastic bags are considered especially dangerous to sea turtles, who may mistake them for jelly fish, a main food source. 
a) US States
The battle to ban or tax plastic bags by US state legislatures has been intense. A number of states have been, and are currently, debating the problems caused by plastic bags. As of this date, the closest progress to effect action at the state level has been in Oregon and California while the plastic industry is resisting fiercely.
In Oregon this year, Senate Bill 536 was sent back to committee following a split vote. One OR senator reported that he had been contacted by Hilix Poly, who offered to build a recycling center in OR if the senate would pass legislation blocking local governments from passing their own (local) bans.
In California, the state assembly passed a statewide plastic bag ban in June 2010, but following intense lobbying by the industry, the bill was defeated in the senate 21-14 in a September 2010 vote.
Other US states that have been or are actively discussing legislation to control the distribution of free plastic bags include Maine, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Washington, and Connecticut.
Meanwhile there has been significant progress at the county & municipal levels.
b) US Counties:
2009: Kauai County, HI banned the plastic bag. Bill No. 2321.
2010: The Outer Bank Counties, NC banned the use of plastic bags.
2011: Santa ClaraCA, passed an ordinance restricting the distribution of single-use bags and placed a minimum price requirement on single-use paper bags.
2011: LA County, CApassed a plastic bag ban.
c) US Cities that have banned/want to ban plastic bags:
2008: SeattleWA More than 46% of people surveyed voted for a fee.
2008: WestportCT Westport banned some plastic bags.
2009: FairbanksAK, passed a 5 cent fee on plastic bags. The fee is characterized as a ‘user fee’ to address the city’s solid waste issues. Revenue from the fee will go towards recycling initiatives.
2009: Santa Cruz, CA is considering options for reducing the number of plastic bags that go to the local landfill---including charging a fee for using them and instituting an outright ban.
2009San Jose, CA is considering options for reducing the number of plastic bags that go to the local landfill including charging a fee for them and instituting a ban.
2009: Long Beach, CA drafted a ban similar to the one for Los Angeles county. It will ban bags at supermarkets and grocery stores.
2010: San Francisco, CA See movie: ‘Save the Bay’ which depicts the tidal wave of plastic bags that threaten the environment, waterways and shorelines: The best movie yet to awaken people up to the issues with plastic bag waste.
SF wants to expand its bill to include all retail stores, book stores and clothing outlets.
2010: Telluride, CO bans the plastic bag.
2010: Washington, DC bans the plastic bag. Ban-backers invoked the Anacostia River which flows past the city’s poorest neighborhoods and was notoriously choked with pollution. 21% of the trash came from plastic bags.
2010: CharlestonSC selected to end the use of plastic bags for garden debris.
2010: EdmondsWA passed a plastic bag ordinance.
2011: Santa MonicaCA voted unanimously to ban single-use-bags.
2011: CalabasasCA bans the plastic bag.
2011: Pasadena, CA is considering a proposal to ban plastic bags.
2011: Los Angeles, CA Los Angeles has passed an ordinance to ban plastic bags.
2011: Manhattan Beach, CA. Manhattan Beach had passed a city ban on plastic bags in February 2009. But the ACC and affiliated groups had blocked the ban by filing a lawsuit on the grounds that the city had not conducted an adequate Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The city took the case to the Californian Supreme Court, and in May 2011 the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Manhattan Beach.
The Court ruled that a master EIR, developed by the Ocean Protection Council, will be a sufficient EIR for any California city voting to implement a plastic bag ban.
2011 Decatur,GA. The Environmental Sustainability board is trying to determine if it wants to pursue an anti-bag tax or an outright ban on plastic bags.
2011: Annapolis, MD is considering a ban like San Francisco.
2011: Boston, MA is entertaining a ban on all plastic bags.
2011; Brownsville, TX imposed $1 on plastic bags.
2011: Portland, OR. Effective October 15, 2011. The Portland City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits plastic shopping bags at checkouts of major grocery and certain big-box stores. The new rules designed to curb pollution, fulfill a pledge by Mayor Sam Adams after the 2011 Legislature declined to enact Oregon wide restrictions.
2011: Baltimore, MD is reviewing a proposal that would levy a 5 cent per bag tax on plastic bags. This is in response to the trash problems in Baltimore Harbor and Anacostia River.
Many counties have already banned the one-time plastic bag, for a variety of reasons.
2002: Bangladesh is a very low lying country that is readily susceptible to flooding. It was realized that millions of plastic bags were clogging the country`s storm drains, which massively aggravated the annual floods in the rainy season, so the use of plastic bags was banned.
2002: Ireland depends on tourism to boast its economy. Plastic bags were littering the streets and countryside. Ireland was the first country to introduce a plastic bag fee, or Plas tax of 20 cents on every shopping bag used. Consumption dropped by 90% the first year, (but raised $9.6 million for environmental improvement projects). In the year following the tax imposition, annual consumption of plastic bags dropped by about 1billion bags, and stores found a new market in selling reusable cloth bags.
After the bag tax was enforced, the sale of container liner bags increased somewhat, but the total plastic bag use dropped dramatically since the number of liner bags sold is much less than for single-use disposables, Also, trash liner bags are used specifically for trash that generally go directly into the landfill. They are not released into the environment.
2006: Rwanda. Shops were banned from using plastic bags and police may stop people on the street if seen carrying a plastic bag. Some supermarkets have been closed down for flouting the ban. Travelers crossing into Rwanda have to forfeit any plastic bags at the border post.
2006: Eritrea. A plastic bag ban helped to protect nature. Those who import, produce, distribute or sell plastic bags are fined.
2006: South KoreaTourism represents a major industry. Plastic bags were banned to eliminate a litter problem. The government mandated the concept of: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The EPR system requires manufacturers and importers to recycle a certain amount of their products. In five years since the program was launched in South Korea, 6 million tons of waste have been recycled, including 70,000 tons of plastic, producing a financial benefit of $1.6 billion, and providing a new source of jobs and income.
2007: Uganda and Kenya. Uganda and Kenya banned the use of plastic bags in an effort to curb environmental damage. These countries followed the example set by Rwanda.
2007: Switzerland, Germany and Holland all imposed fees on the one-time plastic bag.
2007: Canada introduced a 5c tax per bag and has committed to reduce plastic bag consumption by 50% in the next 5 years.
2008: China imposed a total ban on the use of ultra-thin plastic bags; a nationwide ban on free plastic bags; and a US $0.08 tax on other plastic bags. China’s move was hailed by green groups as a sign of its determination to improve their environment and raise environmental awareness in the country. Three years later it is estimated that consumption of such bags has been reduced by two thirds. (China Daily, Aug 4, 2011).
2008: Australia started phasing out plastic shopping bags.
“Remember to bring your own shopping bag” is now a normal part of Australia’s normal lives.—the change has generally gone without a hitch.
a) the vast majority of shoppers believe the bag ban shows that Australia is a leader on environmental issues.
b) More than half the shoppers interviewed gave the ban 10 out of 10, with the average support level 8.4 out of ten.
2009: Hong Kong instituted a tax on plastic bags. Bring-your-own-bag has become a part of Hong Kong’s ‘Green Life.’
2011: Italy has instituted a total ban on the use of plastic bags. Retailers were banned from giving plastic bags to customers. And producers were forbidden to manufacture plastic bags.
2011: Bulgaria imposed a tax on plastic bags that will more than triple over the next 3 years to reduce the use of plastic bags.
2011Austria asks European Commission (EC) to regulate plastic bags in all member countries. This suggestion is presently under consideration.
2012; United Arab Emirates plan to ban bags by 2012. Dead camels have been found with clumps of plastic bags in their stomachs weighing up to 30 kilograms.
According to a local newspaper in the UAE the 30 kilogram plastic “rock” once filled the stomach of a camel. It grew gradually as the animal grazed on discarded plastic bags blocking its stomach and causing a slow and agonizing death.
A Dubai scientist often finds lumps of plastic of various sizes in the decomposed bodies of animals.
International Cities that have banned plastic bags include;
2009: Delhi, India has some of the most aggressive legislation on plastic bags not only fining individual users and businesses that hand out bags but also threatening jail time for offenders and plastic bag manufacturers.
2010: Mexico City, Mexico
2011: Muntinlupa City in Manila, Philippines.
The American Chemical Council
The American Chemical Council (ACC) is the trade group representing US chemical companies, as well as the plastics and chlorine industries. It was formerly known as the American Plastics Council. Members include petro-chemical giants like Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical.
The ACC is leading a massively funded program to improve/enhance the public image of the US and global chemical industry including the manufacturers of plastic bags. An early step in 1988 was to launch the so-called “Responsible Care” program which was designed to help the industry avoid regulation by developing its own safety and environmental regulations.
Looking only at the plastic bag segment of the industry`s business, and based on a US annual usage of 100billion bags at an estimated selling price of 2cents/bag, the annual turnover of the plastic bag segment is around $2billion. If the bottom line profit contribution from the plastic bag business segment is (even say) 10%, then the US plastic bag industry is generating profits in the range of $200million per year. This demonstrates why the ACC is fighting so hard to preserve their highly profitable business segment, while passing the downstream disposal costs to local and other authorities.
Through the ACC, the industry has launched a concerted campaign to derail and defeat anti-bag measures nationwide. The ACC and its members are using their deep pockets and extensive political connections to fight or overturn bans on plastic bags, to cast doubt on legitimate scientific studies, and to file lawsuits against anti-bag activists. The council, which spent $8 million on lobbying alone, last year also put together a front called the Progressive Bag Affiliates made up of top bag manufacturers including Hilex Poly, Superbag and Unistar Plastics.
The effort includes political donations to support intensive lobbying at both state and national levels, and a PR campaign that includes misleading claims suggesting reusable bags could contain bacteria and lead. Their latest PR blitz attempts to improve the industry`s image by emphasizing the term “American Chemistry” rather than “Chemical Industry”.
Amy Westervelt , Founding Editor of Plastic Free Times, claims that the plastics industry is just like Big Tobacco. “They are using the same under-handed tactics-and even using the same lobbying firm that Philip Morris started in the Nineties. Their sole aim is to maintain the status quo and protect their profits. Ms. Westerfelt claims that they will stop at nothing to suppress or discredit science that clearly links chemicals in plastic to negative impacts on the environment , animal and human health.
Unfortunately, the ACC has frequently demonstrated its ability to in obtain favorable outcomes for the special interests of the chemical industry.
Some of the ACC`s primary talking points in opposition to bans or taxes on plastic bags are included in this report in Appendix B.
6. Essay by Jean-Michael Cousteau, (Ocean Futures Society);
“They invade our homes, lurk in our back yards, wander our streets, swim in our ocean, float down our rivers and streams, and find shelter in our bushes and trees. They are found in the most populated areas and the most remote places on Earth. They need no resources to persist and may indeed outlive the human race. We cannot ignore them, we cannot escape them and we cannot destroy them”.
The over whelming prevalence of plastic bags on Earth has created a problem so extensive that many countries around the world are taking action to prevent plastic bag distribution. As early as 1988 environmentally minded people realized the costs of single use plastic bags far outweighed the benefits. By 1998, thirty Alaskan villages banned the plastic bag. Now in 2011, multiple countries have banned the bag. Multiple cities including cities in the US have banned the bag. Many other countries have implemented a bag tax.
There is clear evidence that taxes and bans do reduce the amount of single use plastic bags in the environment.
Although battles are being won at the local level, the opposition is not going down without a fight. Most cities have met with resistance from the American Chemical Council (ACC), the main proponent of single use plastic bag. Sub-sections of the ACC, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, and the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling have both filed and won lawsuits against the cities, claiming that the bans were passed without sufficient Environmental Impact Reports (EIR). While plastic bag bans enacted by Oakland and Manhattan Beach, CA are currently ineffective due to this complication, Fairfax avoided being sued by passing a voter initiative to ban plastic bags.
Education programs and recycling programs are steps in the right direction, but statistics have shown they are not enough to change shopper’s behavior. Experience is telling us that in order to get results, we need to make the plastic bag a valuable commodity, or get rid of it.
At Ocean Futures Society we support banning single –use plastic bags because we stand behind the principle, “There is no waste in nature”. This means that in nature everything is recycled in one way or another. Even the harmful chemical defenses of plants and animals are naturally broken down into harmless raw materials that become available for reuse in another form. With this valuable lesson from nature we conclude that we should only produce materials that can be easily rendered harmless after use and then become raw materials for another use. We strongly believe it is crucial to stop producing disposable plastic bags that create waste that neither humans nor nature can adequately dispose. There are more environmentally friendly materials that can be used to carry our groceries and belongings. We are not against the use of durable plastic for long-lasting products, it just does not make sense to use a plastic bag for 10 minutes and then throw it away, liberating it to linger on our planet for thousands of years. We should be smarter than that. But it takes a willingness to create change. We need to rise to the challenge and support those companies and cities that are moving in the right direction; the direction we need to follow so we can all enjoy a sustainable future.
Achmin Steiner, UN President of the Environment, has stated that there is simply zero justification to continue using the disposable plastic shopping bag.
The single-use plastic bag is an environmental disaster for the modern day world. It chokes our landfills, it kills land and marine animals, it is a hidden tax on our society due to the costs of managing its disposal, it devastates otherwise beautiful landscapes, it is basically indestructible and it uses enormous quantities of natural resources.
It also poses a human health risk via the plastic contaminants that are ingested by fish which are ultimately consumed by humans.
Many countries around the world, and many US states, counties and cities already have, or currently are addressing this problem.
It is time for SC to act in order to protect our environment, and our tourist industry, by controlling this insidious product. It is recommended that legislation be passed that will ban or greatly reduce the use of plastic bags in our state.
If an outright ban is not initially attainable, a first step towards solution could be the imposition of a “disposal fee” on plastic bags. This concept is already well established, as for example for a consumer purchasing new tires, or an oil change for their auto. The concept is not a gimmick. There are real financial costs incurred in currently disposing of these plastic bags at the state`s landfill centers, in addition to the environmental costs.  The disposal fee should be large enough to change people`s behavior, and to encourage SC citizens to find alternatives to the single use bag. The “Ireland-style” approach of a 20cents per bag proved to be very effective and reduced single plastic bag use there by 90% within a year. If necessary, the disposal fee could be phased in over one or two years, if that were a more attainable route. The disposal-fee approach would also provide a source of revenue to help fund other SC environmental issues.
A draft of an ordinance restricting the use of single-use plastic bags in Sacramento County is included here as Appendix A for convenient reference.
Draft Ordinance from Sacramento Co.
Quoting from Wikipedia (in italics),here are some of the ACC’s talking points in opposition to bans or taxes on plastic bags; (Suggested counter comments are included in Bold).
“A ban will unnecessarily raise grocery costs”. A counter to this is that if shoppers brought their own shopping bags, the consumer costs would be reduced.
“A ban will hurt workers”. Not clear why! If the remaining elements of the SC textile industry were to produce fabric for reusable shopping bags, and these were cut and sewn locally, we could see new jobs created in SC.
“A ban will hurt small businesses”. Also as previous response, there can be an opportunity for new start-up businesses to produce reusable bags as demonstrated in Bangladesh and Ireland.
“A ban will do nothing for the environment”. Nonsense! There are multiple benefits to the environment, ranging from the obvious aesthetic tourist benefits, to reducing marine life fatalities, to reducing human health hazards from chemicals such as BPA that are widely used in some plastic products.
“A ban will derail recycling programs”. On the contrary, the management of most existing recycling centers would be delighted to not have to deal with plastic bags, which are probably their biggest nuisance. It is estimated that less than 5% of plastic bags are ever recycled.
“The Pacific Garbage patch is an exaggerated myth with no scientific credible and confirmed data”. Quote from Captain Charles Moore, Founder, Algalita Marine Research Foundation, “These claims are nothing more than propaganda”.
Canada’s Environment and Plastics Industry Council (Chicago Tribune, May `09) claimed that “reusable bags are a breeding ground for bacteria and pose a public health risk because of high counts of yeast, molds and bacteria”. On the contrary, reusable bags can be washed or cleaned just like a hundred other household items. It does not mention that abandoned plastic bags become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“There is no scientific logic to banning plastic bags that will survive an honest appraisal”. We know for sure that the banning of bags would certainly save the lives of birds and animals.
“Paper bags cost 10x more than plastic, weigh 6x more, take up 10x the volume, use 50x more water in their production, and produce 3x the CO2 during their production. Plastic bags use 40% less energy to produce and generate 80% less solid waste than paper, according to EPA”. Unlike plastic bags, paper bags will bio degrade and do not last forever. They do not kill animals, they do not require valuable fossil fuels and trees will grow again.
“There is no credible and confirmed scientific data that plastic bags are a significant threat to marine life. The widely circulated photo of a turtle with a plastic bag in its mouth is not science, and could even be staged. This is not sufficient basis to cause a change in an entire society’s actions. Severe actions require severe proof to be justified”. Turtles have been found with plastic bags in their stomach on numerous occasions; similarly, numerous marine animals including whales, dolphins, and seals, as well as many marine birds have been found with plastic stomach contents.
“Reusable shopping bags, unless washed every day and not allowed to touch the ground, will harbor unsafe levels of bacteria and are a health hazard compared to clean single use plastic bags. Placing such bags on grocery checkout counters can transmit the bacteria to the next customer’s food”. Humans survived safely for hundreds of years before the advent of plastic shopping bags!
ACC Smartbrief
The Plastic Bag Ban Report:
Captain Charles Moore, Founder,: Algalita Marine Research Foundation
Liza Kaas Boyle, Plastic Pollution Coalition
Kitt Douceette: “The Plastic Bag Wars”
Ocean Conservancy
Keep America Beautiful
China Daily

Sample Petition for Your Town: 
We the undersigned, are citizens of (your county, your state here).  Many cities and states in the USA and countries around the world, including Boston, Baltimore, Bangladesh, Ireland and India have banned or taxed single use plastic shopping bags.  Benefits of a bag ban include:
- reduction of petroleum use
- ending needless deaths of marine, farm and wildlife from ingestion and entanglement
- halting the accumulation of toxins, like hormone disruptors into our bodies and environment
- control of litter and landfill waste
Support Be Plastic Bag Free and call on elected officials to take action to ban or tax the use of plastic bags by all stores.

Please send completed petitions to (your name or your organization's name here).  Keep a copy for your records.