The danger of plastic bags to children is well known. Less known are the dangers plastic bags present to the environment. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, in his efforts to paint the city green, is hoping to lessen plastic bag waste by taxing them 6 cents per bag.
As with many of Bloomberg’s ideas, New Yorkers are divided. Message boards, such as the one on Gothamist.com contain long back and forth discussion. With no end in sight for the current recession, and a transit hike looming ahead, people are already feeling over-taxed. Yet those who support Bloomberg, feel that saving the environment is worth having to carry around a re-usable bag, or pay the charge.
The city is hoping to gain the needed support of both city and state legislature by this summer. Bloomberg would like New York to join a growing list of cities that are taxing or banning plastic bags.
Over the past year Ireland and China have passed plastic bag taxes. Bangladesh, several African nations, and Australia are looking into plastic bag elimination. San Francisco banned plastic bags last year in favor of biodegradable bags made out of potato starch, but the blog “Emerald City” from the Los Angeles Times points out, this “still supports a one-use, disposable bag habit, while a per-bag fee encourages reusable bag use.”
It doesn’t look like New York needs to worry about the tax anytime soon though. Just recently, on Dec. 12th, Gov. Paterson signed an amendment to state shopping-bag recycling laws, allowing New York City to keep it’s bag recycling programs. The New York City Council had already passed a bill requiring recycling for plastic bags, as well as bins where bags can be returned, in stores more than 5,000 square feet. Bloomberg would like to use part of the $16 million a year the bag tax is estimated to generate to fund these bins. This tax, however, as The New York Times points out, is not a reliable source of revenue if shoppers adopt to bringing their own bags with them, as they did in Ireland.
In an article called “The Real Cost of Free,” Reusablebags.com breaks down the real cost of plastic bags. From the petroleum and natural gases used to makes plastic, to the annual $4 billion estimated consumption cost which retailers pass onto consumers in higher prices, and the deadly effects plastic bags have on both animals and humans, plastic bags are currently costing us much more than six cents.
Having to carry around a reusable bag at all times is an inconvenience. Yet so is digging new landfills to make room for all the waste we produce.
Is paying the six cents the only solution for those who don’t remember to bring their own bag? Perhaps the bag return bins in supermarkets can be used like the penny trays at cash registers. Deposit your extras for someone who needs it. It would cut down on the production of new plastic bags, reuse the ones in circulation, and be a safety net for those who forgot their bag at home.
Or maybe New Yorkers could remember that their small island is part of a big world. According to a survey conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 78 percent of New Yorkers believe global warming is happening, and 69 percent believe parts of New York City may have to be evacuated over the next 50 years due to rising sea levels. Are these the same people who are stubbornly opposed to carrying a cloth bag with them? Maybe they need their plastic bags to build flotation devices in anticipation of that day.