San Jose Bans Single Use Plastic Shopping Bags

The San Jose City Council banned single use plastic shopping bags and prohibited retailers from giving away paper bags this week in a 10 to one vote. The ban will take effect on January 1, 2012. In 2012, retailers will have to charge 10 cents for a paper bag, and 25 cents in 2013. San Jose is the third largest U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags.

A bill in California which would have banned single use shopping bags failed to pass this fall. The bill would have required stores to provide reusable or recycled paper bags to customers who cannot afford them.

San Francisco banned single-use plastic shopping bags at large supermarkets in 2007 and large chain pharmacies in 2008, becoming the first U.S. to enact such a law. Around the world, single-use shopping bags are banned, including China which banned free single-use plastic shopping bags in 2008.

Here are a few facts about single-use plastic shopping bags:

  • 500 billion to one trillion are used every year globally, and about one million are used every minute
  • One bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade
  • Over 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008, almost triple the amount discarded in 1980
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion a year, at a cost to retailers of about $4 billion a year
  • They are the second most common waste in the ocean, and every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 of plastic floating in it
  • They remain toxic even after they break down

Tax or ban?

The website Reuseit opts for a tax on single-use plastic shopping bags rather than a ban. In fact, Reuseit calls a ban “an emotional response which fails to strike at the heart of the issue,” and refers to a tax as a “market-based solution,” and cites Ireland as an example. In 2002, Ireland enacted the PlasTax, a 15 cent tax on single use plastic shopping bags. Within weeks of enacting the tax, plastic bag use decreased 94 percent, and within a year, most people used reusable bags.

A tax can reduce the use of single-use plastic shopping bags by 85 to 95 percent, but maintains the “illusion of free choice,” according to Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at Worldwatch Institute. Assadourian points out that a tax generates revenue to address environmental problems. On the other hand, a ban “will anger a significant percentage of voters while reducing plastic bag use almost entirely (over several years), but possibly increase overall ire at the government’s meddling to ‘save the environment.’”

What do you think is the best way to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the use of single-use plastic shopping bags?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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