By Bill Hickman
Surfrider chapters typically focus their plastic reduction efforts in coastal cities and towns since that's where our members are who see the impacts of plastic pollution firsthand and want to take action. You have to start somewhere and as a grassroots organization, that somewhere is our backyard.
But it's important to remember that everywhere on land is part of a watershed that flows to a river, creek or stream that then outlets in a lake, bay or ocean. So it's great to see inland cities making efforts to reduce single-use plastic bags and the latest good news comes from the west Texas city of Kermit where a reusable bag ordinance has been enacted.
In addition to marine impacts, plastic bags can be a big nuisance for farmers. I recently spoke with some Surfrider activists in Texas who mentioned that cotton farmers can take a financial hit from plastic bag litter because it can taint their crop as it is processed by mills:
Bags find their way into farmers’ fields and then into modules of cotton. The bags go through the gin and textile mills and have even ended up in finished apparel. One thing that I would really like to emphasize this fall is to watch for those Wal-Mart bags in your fields. It’s almost humorous, but it’s dead serious. One mill in the east quit buying cotton in Georgia and the Carolinas because of it.
Kermit recently passed a type of reusable bag ordinance that eliminates plastic checkout bags at most retailers and puts a small fee on paper bags as an incentive for people to remember their reusable bag or go without a bag for small purchases. The City of Kermit website does a great job to explain the ordinance and why it's needed:
Q: What kind of plastic bag is banned?
Plastic carryout bags include any bag made of plastic (from any source), which is provided to the customer at the point of sale.
Q: What kind of plastic bag is NOT banned?
Produce bags and product bags are bags without handles used exclusively to carry produce, meats or other food items to the point of sale or to prevent such food items from coming into direct contact with other purchased items.
Q: Why has the City of Kermit banned single-use plastic carryout bags?
The intent of the single-use carryout bag ordinance is to significantly reduce the environmental impacts related to single-use plastic and paper carry out bags and promote a major shift towards the use of reusable bags.
Q: How are single-use plastic carryout bags harmful to the environment?
They are consumed in extremely high volumes. They are produced from non-renewable resources. They are designed to be disposable (rather than reusable). They are difficult to recycle—less than 5 percent of the 19 billion plastic bags used annually in Texas are actually recycled. They are a significant and visible component of litter and do not biodegrade. They remain in the environment as marine, storm drain and beach pollution for decades. A significant hazard to ranch animals and birds, which often mistake plastic bags as food.
Q: Is there any exception to this ban?
The ordinance does NOT prohibit the distribution of plastic product bags such as those distributed within a grocery store for bagging produce or meat.
Q: What stores are required to charge 10 cents for each recycled paper bag?
All grocery stores, convenience stores, minimarts, liquor stores, drug stores and pharmacies are prohibited from providing free distribution of single-use paper and plastic carryout bags. If these stores decide to make paper carryout bags available for their customers, they are required to sell recycled paper carryout bags made from 100 percent total recycled content with 40 percent post-consumer recycled content for not less than 10 cents per bag.
Q: Why is there a $0.10 fee on recycled paper carryout bags?
The fee of $0.10 on recycled paper carryout bags encourages the use of reusable bags. This cost pass-through reimburses retailers for the costs of providing recycled paper carry out bags to their customers. All of the revenue from the cost pass-through remains with the store.
Q: How do I avoid paying 10 cents for each recycled paper bag?
It’s easy—remember to bring your own reusable bags to the store. Some stores will even offer you a credit or gift for bringing your own bag.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.