Stores across Mexico City went bagless this week as amended ordinances on solid waste prohibited businesses from giving out non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags. The law affects all stores, production facilities and service providers within the Federal District (which encompasses the city limits) making Mexico City the second large metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere to outlaw the bags. In 2007, San Francisco enacted an ordinance to phase out the bags, and Los Angeles is set to impose a ban if the state of California does not enact a statewide 25-cent fee per bag.
Isn’t that great?! Between 500 billion and one trillion plastic grocery bags are produced worldwide each year. (Isn’t that not great?!) The average number of plastic bags consumed every minute around the world is roughly 1 million a minute. Not too shocking to hear that plastic bags are the second-most-common form of litter, behind cigarette butts. The bags are the greatest form of litter on the globe’s oceans, the U.N. agency said in a recent report, resulting in the estimated death of 100,000 whales, turtles, and other marine animals annually.
In the United State alone, 12 million barrels of oil are required to produce enough plastic bags to appease our needs. And then there’s that little decomposition problem: 500 years in the landfill. About 90 percent of the bags used in the United States are not recycled.
According to a report from CNN, other places are taking the problem seriously as well: China has adopted a strict limit, reducing litter and eliminating the use of 40 billion bags, the World Watch Institute said. In Tanzania, selling the bags carries a maximum six-month jail sentence and a fine of 1.5 million shilling ($1,137). Mumbai, India, outlawed the bags in 2000 and cities in Australia, Italy, South Africa and Taiwan have imposed bans or surcharges. Ireland reported cutting use of the bags by 90 percent after imposing a fee on each one.
Next: What you can do–6 tips.
1. Pack some ultra compact nylon bags (that fold up into tiny packets) in your purse so that you are always prepared for unexpected errands.
2. Stow fabric (hemp, jute, canvas, cotton, recycled plastic textile, etc) bags in your trunk for big shopping trips-—just get in the habit of returning them to the trunk after unpacking groceries.
3. Reusing plastic and paper bags helps; keep a supply of them in your trunk for groceries and use them until they are too worn, then recycle. (Many stores now offer a rebate when you BYOB.)
4. Look French and use baskets when you go to the farmers’ market. Salad doesn’t get as squashed when you put it in a round-bottomed basket.
5. If you get stuck with groceries but without your totes, pick plastic: when statistics are compared, it is the lesser of the two evils. Try to reuse it again and when it comes time to recycle it, tie it in a knot to keep it from blowing away from the trash and landfill and into the trees and ocean.
6. If you’re crafty, make a super-cute DIY knitted shopping bag (like the one pictured above).
The best advice is to simply get into the mind-set: once it becomes habit the inconvenience disappears and it seems there was never another way. The whales and turtles will thank you.