San Francisco’s ban on plastic shopping bags has been in place since early 2008, but you wouldn’t know it by walking down my Mission District street. Granted, I live on the trashy side of the street–prevalent wind patterns deposit the neighborhood litter on the west side of every block in my hood. But on a dog walk the other day, I picked four plastic bags off the street during the last three blocks of my stroll. Most of them looked like they came from corner stores, which are both numerous around here and which are not included in SF’s bag ban.
Maybe it won’t always be this way. California’s Assembly Bill 1998, which enjoys Governor Schwarzenegger’s support, would create a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags not only at major chain stores, but at the bodega down my block and every small retailer in the state. It would also provide a consistent guideline for businesses that operate throughout California and therefore must obey a patchwork of bag bans enacted by the handful of cities that have passed them (and there are many others that are considering a ban). That’s one of the things that compelled the California Grocers Association to support the bill.
But as oil slicks inch closer to Florida’s shores and BP struggles to cap the gushing in the Gulf, the advancement of a national ban on single-use plastics is ever more important. Californians use 19 million plastic bags a year, but nationwide we consume 92 billion disposable plastic bags each year. Sure, transportation and infrastructure suck up much more oil than plastic bags, but the Worldwatch Institute figures that by banning free plastic bags since 2008, China “reduced plastic bag usage there by 66 percent, and saved some 1.6 million tons of petroleum.” That’s through a reduction of 40 billion bags, meaning the US could reduce demand for oil by more than 3 million tons of petroleum in two years.
If that’s not marketing fodder for makers of reusable totes bags, I don’t know what is.