More Texas Cities Considering Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags

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Photo by Barclay Nix
Litter like this on Padre Island prompted several Texas coastal cities to ban plastic bags.
Brownsville set a trend last year when it became the first city in Texas to ban the use of plastic grocery bags in nearly all consumer settings. Brownsville mayor Pat Ahumada told the New York Times that the ban had eliminated 350,000 plastic bags per day, a decrease that "transformed our city from littered and dirty to a much cleaner city."

Now, Corpus Christi is considering the same ban, a proposal which will be discussed by its City Council tomorrow afternoon. Advocates of the ban cite a multitude of reasons why eliminating plastic grocery bags will be better for the city in the long run: The city's recycling center is bogged down by 100 tons of the bags because there is no market for them and city workers spend about $100,000 a year cleaning up plastic bag-based litter throughout Corpus Christi.

The plan to ban plastic bags is catching on throughout Texas: Fort Stockton, South Padre Island and Pecos all instituted bans of their own, following Brownsville's lead. Elsewhere, Austin, San Antonio and McAllen are also considering bans as Americans continue to use plastic bags at a staggering rate: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year. They end up in landfills -- where they nearly refuse to decompose -- or littering every inch of the landscape. Only 2 percent of those 100 billion bags are ever recycled.

And nearly a year later, most Brownsville residents are glad the plastic grocery bags were banned. Residents raved that the city was much cleaner without plastic bag litter on the roads and in waterways, although bringing their own bags took a little getting used to.

But for all the positive changes, the ban is not without its detractors.

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Photo by Fantaz
A sea of plastic bags shimmer in a landfill, where they will take between 500 and 1,000 years to decompose.
Ahead of the initial Brownsville ban, an organization put together by the American Chemistry Council campaigned to keep the bags in stores, asking residents: "Do you rely on free plastic grocery bags?"

"Plastics bag manufacturers directly employ more than 2,600 people in the state of Texas," the ACC claimed. And, they claimed, "plastic grocery bags are extremely resource-efficient," costing less to transport than paper bags. However, the organization seemed to gloss over the fact that the plastic bag ban encourages people to bring their own reusable bags in lieu of going back to paper bags, and also said nothing to address the litter situation caused by plastic bags.

And Brownsville residents initially told the New York Times that they were wasting energy and money driving to stores outside of the city limits that still stocked plastic grocery bags, rather than bringing their own, although that attitude seems to have faded within the last year.


Above: Literally the only time that a piece of plastic bag litter has been of any greater use than clogging waterways or medians.

Other detractors claim that the ban hurts lower-income shoppers, who are "forced" to purchase reusable bags for a dollar more. This claim holds little water, however, as grocery stores still offer paper bags (for free). And wounding people in their pocketbooks for an extra dollar is chump change compared to the money saved by not having to chase plastic bags during litter clean-ups, to say nothing of the cost of sparing the environment of so-called "bag blight" in the long run.

But it's these detractors who are holding up the bag ban in other cities like Austin, where attempts to introduce the ban by 2013 have been delayed by costly research and a fear of lawsuits like those that have arisen in California.

Dallas and Houston have remained completely mum on whether or not a bag ban could ever be passed in either city. But you only have to look at the plastic bag-strewn banks of Buffalo Bayou to see that something, someday, needs to be done.



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16 comments
childrens jackets
childrens jackets

Not only American country have this kind of problem regarding plastics. But the good news is most of the countries having a program that banning the used of plastics specially plastic bags.  We can already observed this in a mall. Some of them used biodegradable plastics.

steve
steve

Plastic Bags?  Is that the best you can do?Let's ban all plastic! A plastic bag weighs 1/10 of a gram.    There are 270 pounds of plastic in your car.    Every toy your kid has is 95% plastic.    The lap top you are using right now is 92% plastic.    Plastic is fossil oil and chemicals bonded permanently and can not be recycled.    80% of the fossil oil used is used to produce plastic.    If you really want to make a difference, Stop using plastic products. Try to use metal where you can.    All metal is 100% recyclable.    Lets wise up and start taking better care of Earth

GNJ
GNJ

It's time for plastic bags and bottles to go!  Especially if they're not biodegradable.  Let's do it, Houston!

Stiv7
Stiv7

you do realize those plastic bags in your lead photo are not grocery bags, don't you?

Gaspar_Ramsey
Gaspar_Ramsey

As Dr. Howard Turner, chemist extraodinaire, used to explain, plastic is the best friend the environment ever had. When hydrocarbons are made into plastic, they do not get turned into carbon dioxide and do not become greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. Plastic sequestered in a landfill for the next thousand years or so will not harm anyone, so the solution is more plastic, less gasoline. Just keep the damn stuff in the landfill and not in rivers or oceans.

Ponoka
Ponoka

Ok, let's talk facts and not made up stuff... Plastic represents a small part of landfills, if you believe this article you might think the landfill is full of Plastic Grocery bags...less that 1% people. The number one article in landfill is paper...can you say "trees". Brownsville numbers are not accurate...they are still giving out plastic bags to date, the full ban has not been in effect yet. We are being lied to as usual, except for the part about people are diving a few miles to get plastic bags...true and it continues to be that way. Paper bags will continue to be free?... are you kidding me. the cost of paper over plastic... 5 times more expensive, and takes up 7 times more space in the stores...what do you think will happen....yes, that cost will soon be passed on to us, the consumer. They have to cover that cost....Again...can anyone say "trees". Reusables are mostly made off-shore and are not recyclable. Plus, if we can"t take plastic bags in for recycling, then why should be believe people will do it with reusables. Won't happen. So let's recap, a ban will cause the cost of shopping to increase, going back to paper / reusables / and others will also be worse for the enviroment, not to mention a blow to Texas jobs not just in bag making but also in the recycling industries. And finally, what is the reason again....litter....when the bags are 100% recyclable, which is more than can be said for the paper being used today. And people will use more plastic, since now they will not be able to use the grocery sacks for other things around the house, like trash bag liners, doggie doo, etc....This is about the enviromentalist making this a political cause for all the wrong reasons using scare tactics and staged pictures. Hey I got an idea, why don't we take a picture of the tons of paper that will be replacing the plastic...then tell me that it will save us taxpayers money??? Hello

Devilling
Devilling

Plastic bags are not the problem...they only represent .5% of the trash in Texas landfills. Let's get real people, we are the problem. If we would recycle properly, then we would not only save Texas jobs, but would also create jobs. But as usual, we are lazy and don't want to be bothered. The reusable bags are made off shore, can"t be recycled (no matter what anyone tries to tell you), end up in landfills, and will drive your cost of shopping up. Even the article we are commenting on has plenty of false statements. Check the facts, the pics are staged, the litter number is inflated. One fact, in every City where a ban has been put in place, the volume of litter has increased, and the cost to the city (taxpayers), have increased 3 fold. When government is telling you it is good, then that should be the red flag for all of us. I am for Texas jobs, and not sending my hard earned money off shore. Reduce, reuse, recycle, regenerate...should be what we all strive for. Going back to paper, reusable, etc...causing a bigger enviromental footprint, but the blogs will not tell you that part. This probably will be screened....

enderspath
enderspath

They are not banning huge trash bags made of plastic.  Many people here have stated that they re-use their bags for trash and litter and throw them away with the garbage.  The article says they have 100 tons of plastic bags because they can't find anyone to take them?  I do not believe that statement.

WestSideBob
WestSideBob

Both Walmart and Kroger offer to recycle plastic bags.  There may be other resources available that I don't know.

Richard Doll
Richard Doll

I support the ban 100%, we're an incredibly wasteful society and horribly ignorant when it comes to litter.  Plastic bags, cups, bottles - idiots leave them in parking lots or throw them out the window of moving cars.  All of this ends up in our bays, the gulf, and ultimately our oceans.  Tim paper bags are great for litter too, and at least decompose at nearly the same rate as the cat waste.  Katherine I have major issues too with how people find it necessary to have everything they buy put in a bag.  Go to the grocery store and buy a bag of apples, and what do they do?  Put your bag of apples in another bag.  And yes, a tube of chapstick, nothing else, and they'll put it in a bit plastic bag.  Sad thing is most people expect it, and if asked "do you want a bag", they'll say yes.

Tim
Tim

I like to give myself a pat on the back for being one of the surprisingly few who recycles their plastic bags.  I wouldn't miss them and certainly would support this if it really does help the environment or reduces litter.  I have to admit, though, that I also find these convenient for packing shoes in suitcases and bagging up my cats litter box waste... not sure what I'd use in their place for that. Maybe instead of recycling them, I should stockpile!

Jamex
Jamex

nothing but big government. Sarcasm,people.

Pay a couple of times and you will start carrying your bags to the store.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Plastic completely recyclable? I would truly like to see some hard, unbiased data on such claims. I seriously doubt the average bag used in a store will break down rapidly. I truly don't understand why you take the position you do. The less plastic bags we use, the better.

Carolyn
Carolyn

 I live in Corpus Christi I have been to the recycling plant. I have seen how the bags clog the machines. I have seen the bales of unsaleable plastic bags which will end up in the landfill.

Richard Doll
Richard Doll

Disqus is not working correctly at the moment - I hit submit once on my posting, not twice.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm with you, Tim. I don't "recycle" my plastic bags, per se, but I do reuse them around the house for a multitude of chores. I don't remember the last time I bought trash bags, as I just use the plastic bags from the store instead.

Interestingly, most of the time when I get plastic bags, it's not even from the grocery store (where I usually remember to bring my own bags) -- it's from the drugstore or a dozen other places where they're quick to throw anything you buy, even a tube of chapstick, into a giant plastic bag for no good reason. I often try to refuse the bag and just slip the stuff I've bought into my tote bag, but it seems like plastic bags are absolutely everywhere these days...

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