We are a trendsetter for the nation when it comes to environmental, health, and safety concerns. It was 1955 when California became the first state to require all new cars to be equipped with seatbelts. This simple act has saved thousands upon thousands of lives on our highways and roads.
California was also the first state to thoroughly restrict smoking. In 1995, we enacted a ban on smoking in restaurants (without bars), factories, offices, and enclosed work places. The ban was extended in 1998 to bars and nightclubs—patrons had to snuff out their butts at midnight on New Year’s Eve. At the time, many said it could not work and would kill off many businesses. Guess what? The sky did not fall, and we got rid of a nasty cultural habit. Does anyone really miss the stale smoke smell on their clothes and hair, or in their lungs?
Now, we have another cultural bad habit that we need to lose: our dependence on plastic single-use bags. I have to draw a line in the sand. This wasteful practice is killing our environment, and quite simply has to stop. We can make a stand right here locally by calling on representatives at the city and state levels to regulate single-use bags for all businesses. I would even support an outright ban on all non-biodegradable bags.
If you don’t know how devastating the lowly plastic bag is to the earth, there is a short and amusing video primer in the media box.
Here are the facts: According to multiple sources, California annually uses an estimated 19 billion plastic bags. That is a yearly average of 500 bags for each man, woman, and child living in the state.
That number contrasts with the average in Ireland, which is 37 bags per person. Why the big difference? Because 10 years ago, the Irish government imposed a fee to consumers of 15 cents for every plastic bag they used. It worked in dramatic fashion, and the rate of consumption plummeted 90 percent in just three months.
This regulation has come to be known as the plastic bag fee law. If you make a retail purchase and don’t have your own bag, you get charged. Many cities in California have passed ordinances banning plastic bags altogether, and charging a fee for recycled paper bags.
If you are feeling civic minded, send your local leaders an email telling them how you stand on this important issue. You can also tell your state legislators that you support the bill to ban plastic bags, which was narrowly defeated last year in the Senate.
For the past two years, I've dutifully brought my cloth bags on almost every shopping trip. I have been the distinct minority. The time has come to wake up the general population about this problem with a little hit to their pocketbooks.
This is a small thing that you can do to change the world for the better.