I remember, when I was younger, suddenly paying five cents for a plastic bag at the grocery store. This is unjust! It isn’t that good for the environment and has unintended consequences! Plus, I lose one-twentieth of a dollar for every bag I use!
None of that went through my mind — I couldn't have been older than 8 when the Canadian province of Ontario started charging for plastic bags. Since then, it's just been a part of my life. My mom always had her reusable bags with her.
But for those in Providence, the ban on plastic bags in stores came into effect on Tuesday, and it'll require some getting used to. Instead of a five-cent tax, plastic bags won't be used at all.
On the face of it, it seems like it's good for the environment — single use plastic bags are bad, so we should, as a society, stop using them. But there's more to it than that, and we need to look more carefully at the impacts of such a ban before we welcome it with open arms.
Plastic bag bans or taxes have been instituted in over 400 states and cities across the US since 2007. In 2009, an estimate of American single-use plastic bag use placed the number around 100 billion that year.
But ditching plastic bags isn't all that it seems. There's been a multitude of research showing how a plastic bag ban can have little impact, if not negative repercussions.
University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor told NPR earlier this year that while single-use plastic bag use has decreased in regions where the bags were banned — and plastic waste decreased by 40 million pounds — sales of other, substitute plastic bags skyrocketed. The use of larger garbage bags increased by more than 120 percent.
What about more eco-friendly substitutes, like paper or reusable bags? Studies show that paper bags are worse for the environment, in that their production emits more greenhouse gases. Other research shows that cloth bags have to be reused more than 130 times before they have a smaller carbon-footprint-per-use than single-use plastic bags.
The most environmentally-friendly alternatives are bags made of polyester or plastics like polypropylene. Still, even those have to be used “dozens and dozens” of times before they have a lower footprint-per-use than single-use bags.
Yes, saving the environment and slowing global warming is essential, but Providence’s single-use plastic bag ban is simply inefficient at making an impact.
It’s not the city’s fault — these bans have been the trendy thing to do for cities and states across the country, and even the world — but when it comes to effectiveness, Providence has missed the mark.
Instead, the city should return to a price on single-use plastic bags, like there was before this ban. Providence should also re-allocate the $16,000 set aside to raise awareness of the ban, putting it towards more effective environmental efforts within the city.
Any attempt by the state government to institute a ban, as we saw earlier this year in the Senate, should be voted against.
While it may sound like political gold, a single-use plastic bag ban does nothing to help the environment or the people of Providence.
It is encouraging to see the city working towards a more sustainable future. The challenges we face in the environment must be met head-on, and there’s no time to lose. But the bag ban is a setback in statewide efforts for a smaller carbon footprint.
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