Find Out Who's Behind Banning Plastic Bag Bans
Plastic bag use has become ubiquitous in many parts of the world as a cheap and convenient means of transporting items. Meant for one-time usage, plastic bags have left a deep imprint on the planet. All over the world, countries are taking action by either banning lightweight plastic bags, charging for them or generating taxes from the stores that sell them. Among the countries that have banned plastic bags outright are Rwanda, China, Taiwan and Macedonia. In the U.S. more than 100 counties and municipalities have banned plastic bags, with California being the first to impose a statewide ban.
Plastic pollution threatens waterways and coastlines. Photo credit: Shutterstock
However many of these important measures are in trouble in the U.S. California’s landmark legislation is now officially on hold, with a referendum to repeal the ban added to the ballot for November 2016. Florida and Arizona have both already passed bills making the banning of plastic bags illegal. Powerful and large special interest lobbying groups are behind these “ban bans” as well as litigation aimed at already existing bans. Outside interests are funding these efforts to dissuade and dismantle local level legislation. Primary among them is the Progressive Bag Affiliates, funded by the largest plastic bag manufacturers in the country and the American Chemistry Council.
On March 26, the Georgia House defeated Senate Bill 139, legislation prohibiting cities and towns from restricting plastic bags and other single-use items. Right up to the vote, this was a heated issue with both sides trying to garner support. I testified in opposition to the bill because I am passionate about instilling the values of reusing and recycling, as well as supporting legislation that makes good common sense. This bill did not.
Take for instance the two Georgia communities where interest in these restrictions has been gaining the most steam, Athens-Clarke County and Tybee Island. Tybee Island citizens are combating the ruinous effect plastic waste has on their coastline. Not only do they depend on tourism as a mainstay of their economy but they are home to five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles. Sadly, turtles ingest the plastic bags, posing significant health risks and even death. In Athens-Clarke County, citizens are struggling to meet their waste-diversion goals as landfills are filling up. These bags pose a problem not only in traditional waste environments but recycling facilities as well. Plastic bags are more difficult to recycle and can damage expensive equipment.
Tybee Island's sea turtles ingest plastic bags thinking they are jelly fish which can lead to significant health risks. Photo credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Let’s be real about plastic bags; they are non-biodegradable, cause huge build-ups of litter, endanger animals, increase our foreign dependence on oil and poison our waters. We trade all of this for mere moments of convenience. Americans use and dispose of an unfathomable 100 billion plastic bags annually and at least 12 million barrels of oil are used per year to manufacture them.
Last year Tybee Island taxpayers spent $600,000 on beach cleanups and related waste management without help from the state. Nationally, only an approximate three percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. These bags can take thousands of years to break down, but due to the nature of their materials they don’t really fully decompose. As such, there is a tremendous amount of one-use plastics that wash down our storm drains and into our rivers, lakes and ultimately, our oceans. Once exposed to the harsh conditions of saltwater and sun the plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces.
This oceanic plastic pollution, driven by powerful circulating currents, accumulates into five giant garbage patches, the largest, estimated to be twice the size of Texas, is in the Northern Pacific. And this is only what we can see on the surface; the amounts that lie below are much, much greater. This plastic pollution doesn’t accumulate forever, rapidly fragmenting in the gyres, it is pushed outward across the planet, where it washes up on beaches or settles on the seafloor, much like smog does in the air.
Here in Georgia, the impact of plastic bags is plainly evident on our beloved Chattahoochee river and the network of creeks and streams in the river basin. Carried by heavy rains, you can see hundreds of these bags in tree and shrub branches, true eyesores, too high to be reached by volunteers who participate in regularly scheduled cleanups. The good news is we are slowly waking up to this man-made crisis, with localities passing their own legislation to reduce plastic bags across the country.
Some companies are already taking steps on their own. Whole Foods will credit you for bringing your own bags, which you can then contribute back to the many causes of the Whole Planet Foundation, my favorite being microenterprise lending to poor women. At Costco, they do not offer bags at all, although you may reuse their cardboard packing containers.
In Georgia, we have been victorious in deterring powerful outsider groups from interfering in our local politics and stopping important legislation. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. One of the best ways you can make a difference is by starting at home and implementing a family policy of the four R’s—Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Refuse. Just refuse plastic bags and other one use throw-away items. You can also visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the 5 Gyres Institute websites to learn more on the threat of plastic waste.
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By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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