Save Our Parks, Rivers and Oceans. Fight Plastic Pollution. Ban the Bag.

Bag bans are sweeping the nation and the world. Bangladesh and Ireland were two of the first countries to ban single-use plastic bags all the way back in 2002. Ireland started with a region, while Bangladesh instituted a country-wide ban. Several years later, San Francisco (not surprisingly) was the first city in the U.S. to do so in 2007. We have made a lot of progress in the past decade with bans in cities, states and countries including Tanzania, Australia, France, Chile and dozens of cities in the U.S. In Bali, which faces an overwhelming trash problem, two teenage sisters were even successful in winning a promised ban on plastic bags. In places where there aren’t bans yet, many countries and cities have taken the first step by imposing a fee on plastic bags.

But whether it’s a fee, tax or a ban, the message is clear: We need to end the distribution of single-use plastic bags.

Reports show that our environment, namely our oceans, are filling up with plastic and there will be more plastic than fish in our waterways by 2050 (we call it plastic soup). Plastic bags are a huge part of the problem. They don’t break down for up to an estimated 1,000 years and, even then, they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces; they do not biodegrade within any human timescale. By stopping the distribution of plastic bags at the point of sale, and motivating people to use reusable bags, we can stop this pollution before it starts.

In the U.S., California is leading the way in plastic bag bans. To date, more than 150 cities in the state have bag bans and/or taxes. In 2014, California was the first state in the U.S. to pass a statewide plastic bag ban. It was a huge achievement. Unfortunately, plastic bag companies were not going to let it stand without a fight. They managed to get more than the nearly 505,000 signatures needed to propose a ballot measure to overturn the ban. Instead of going into effect on July 1, 2015, the legal challenge put the landmark bag ban on hold until the November 2016 elections. The Big Plastic industry, led by Novolexraised over $6 million to undermine the will of the people. But the people won, upholding the state’s bag ban at the polls!

Find out more information about bag bans in your area by clicking on the map.

In the meantime, in 2015, Hawaii became the first state to successfully implement a ban of plastic bags at grocery stores statewide.

Robert Harris, Director of Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter, explains why he thinks the people of the state of Hawaii got behind this effort. “Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment. People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed — plastic bags — in the environment.”

However, some large retailers are not getting on board so easily. The bag ban has some loopholes, and many retailers are ignoring the spirit of the law and distributing thicker plastic bags.

Along with the setback in California, some ground has been lost in the battle against these single-use bags that are clogging the oceans, gagging sea life and littering the landscape.

In a big step backward, in 2016 the Michigan State Senate passed a statewide law that makes any plastic bag ban illegal. Yes, you read that right, Michigan is poised to pass a law outlawing bag bans. Currently, it is waiting for a vote by the House before it lands on Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. If that’s hard to believe, Wisconsin’s Senate also voted to pass a law banning plastic bag bans statewide, taking the choice to ban bags away from municipalities. This is particularly concerning because of the growing amount of plastic being found in the Great Lakes. Laws against bag bans in two major states that border them severely limits efforts to stem the flow of plastic into bodies of water that make up one fifth of our global freshwater supply.

Both laws were pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC Exposed describes ALEC as, “a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs onto taxpayers.” ALEC has wielded significant power behind the scenes of many proposed laws nationwide, and in this case, it is working on behalf of plastic companies (Novolex) to ensure plastic bags have a long life (yes, pun intended).

In early 2017, New York’s Governor Cuomo signed a law overturning New York City’s 5 cent bag fee and imposing a one year moratorium before the New York City Council can consider a new policy. Governor Cuomo said that he overturned the city-wide fee because “a statewide solution is the most appropriate way to address this issue.” While a statewide policy is an important goal, overturning NYC’s “Bring Your Own Bag” law means that city residents will continue sending 9 billion plastic bags to landfills and into the environment every year. Thankfully, state legislators are beginning to draft and discuss statewide solutions that will earn earn Governor Cuomo’s support.

So there’s real work to be done to protect our parks, rivers, bays and beaches. And we need your help to do it. Won’t you join us?

Take Action!

The information for this article came from articles in Hawaii News Now, Scientific American, Surfrider, Triple Pundit, The Washington Post, and US News.

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