Plastic Bags damage the environment, affect government budgets, and the health of the people around them. Tell Virginia Beach we need to be responsible and end the use of plastic bags
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This paper examines the effects both environmentally and economically of a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach. Each year Americans use more than 100 billion plastic grocery bags, consuming an estimated 12 million barrels of oil (Query, 2007). However, this solution for shopping has many unintended consequences that must be addressed. According to Query (2007), “After a very short working life, these bags retire to landfills where they take 500 or more years to break down, or become litter that clogs storm drains and threatens marine wildlife.” Disposable plastic bags also toxify the soil and clogged sewers can lead to flooding during large storms. (China, 2008). Virginia Beach’s coastal location makes it important to ban bags to prevent flooding from clogged sewers during hurricanes, save coastal wildlife that feed and breed in the area, conserve soil by reducing toxins from bags, and reduce litter. Plastic bags should be banned in Virginia Beach to promote economic and environmental sustainability.
Economic and Environmental Effects of
a Ban on Plastic Shopping Bags in Virginia Beach
Throughout American history innovation and the goal to improve life has driven industry. Once plastic bags have been used, they either end up in landfills, taking 500 years or more to be broken down, or end up as litter, which clogs sewers and can injure or kill a variety of wildlife (Query, 2007). This widely used product has many unintended consequences, which can impair the environment and local economies. These damages and the large amount of plastic grocery bags make it necessary for Virginia Beach to ban plastic bags.
Review of Literature
One of the main reasons plastic bags are so widely used is they are cost effective for businesses. According to Dankins (2008), “The cost is about 1 cent per plastic bag and 5 to 6 cents per paper bag”. However, the seemingly inexpensive cost of plastic bags is offset by cost to cities. According to Watson (2004):
Plastic bags, which account for 90% of the city’s grocery sack and cause its recycling machines to jam, aren’t the only target of the tax. Both paper and plastic litter the city’s streets. As a result, according to a study by the city’s Environmental Department, the 50 million paper and plastic grocery bags used in San Francisco each year cost the city 17 cents apiece for cleanup and other cost adding up to $8.5 million.
To calculate an approximate cost of the bags in Virginia Beach multiply .17 by 350 to 500 plastic bags a year, the amount an average American uses in a year, and then multiply it by the population of the city of Virginia Beach is the approximate cost to the City of Virginia Beach.
Plastic bags have many hidden cost associated with them. According to Hickman (2011), Plastic Bag cost are hidden in the cost of groceries, the cost of cleaning storm drains and removing litter, the cost to recycling companies when they gum up the recycling machinery, and even the cost to landfills. According to Hickman (2011)
A solution was needed because the smaller landfills estimated that plastic bags were 25% of airborne litter within the landfills while Bowerman estimated plastic bags at 50% of airborne litter because its exposure to the Santa Ana winds. Combinations of efforts are used to capture wayward plastic bags including ‘battle fence’ and laborers with easy reach pickers. The Bowerman landfill had an expense of $83,000 for a moveable wind cage in 2007 and there were approximately 344 labor hours per week for plastic bag cleanup between the three landfills. Overall, the costs were $237,856 according to the report.
Another cost of plastic bags is pollution added to the ocean. As stated earlier plastic bags can easily be blown around by wind. This plastic often ends up in the ocean, according to Amy Joi O’Donoghue (2011), “Plastic bags are the second-most common ocean refuse after cigarette butts”. According to Bushnell (n.d.):
Plastic in the marine environment never fully degrades. The end product of the break down, “plastic dust”, is ingested by filter feeding marine animals. The dust and the bio-toxins, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that the plastic dust accumulates, are passed through the food chain to fish and humans.
According to Amy Joi O’Donoghue (2011), “Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.” and “10 percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide ends up in the ocean, 70 percent of which finds its way to the ocean floor where it will likely never degrade”. According to Lindsey (2010), the result of the San Francisco’s across –the-board ban of plastic bags was a 50 percent drop in plastic bag litter. Juvenile sea turtles often feed in estuaries and other near shore regions (Walker & Wood, 2005, p.97-99). Sea Turtles eat plastic bags due to the resemblance to jellyfish, after swallowing the bag; the bag obstructs food from entering the Sea Turtles stomach, slowly starving it to death (Bosworth, 2005). “Animals can injure themselves on the refuse or become ill if they eat it” (Taylor, 2007, p.31). About 100,000 animals die every year due to the consumption of plastic, one Bryde’s whale died with six square meters of plastic tightly packed in the whale's stomach (Cook, 2009).
Another argument used against bans on plastic bags is that a ban promotes deforestation to create the bags. However, according to Lindsey (Lindsey, 2010), “most paper grocery bags in use today are made from recycled content, not virgin wood”. Paper bags can also be recycled again in the Tidewater Fibre Corps. Recycling plants unlike plastic bags which can gum up recycling machinery, even though plastic bags can be recycled at special facilities according to Bushnell (n.d.), the City of Palo Alto charges only 20 dollars per ton if the plastic bags are baled to the recycling broker. Compared to labor cost and trucking this is not a cost effective method of recycling. According to Scholz (Dankins, 2008), only 5 to 6 percent of plastic grocery bags are recycled and 90 percent of bags are plastic nation wide (Dankin, 2008).Other recycling efforts are also hindered by plastic bags. According to Williams-Derry (2011):
The bags clog up recycling machinery so badly that one Oregon-based recycler recently estimated that 20 to 30 percent of their total labor costs were related to plastic bags—pulling them from the rest of the recycling stream, untangling them from their equipment, and stopping all work when bags clog up the machines—and about 7 percent of otherwise recyclable paper has to be landfilled because of plastic contamination.
As Virginia Beach create its City Sustainability Plan, all forms of sustainability must be addressed. A plastic bag ban would increase both environmental and economic sustainability by reducing pollution and saving the average person from paying for hidden fees. Virginia Code § 10.1-1411, which is a law regarding waste management, requires cities to develop a waste management plan before new facilities are permited. Already countries such as Australia, China, India, Ireland, and among others have passed anti-plastic bag legislation (Lindsey, 2010). China banned the manufacturing, selling, and using bags less than .025 millimeters thick (China, 2008). This ban cut 40 billion bags from use and saved about 1.6 million tons of petroleum (Lindsey, 2010). To increase the environmental and economic sustainability plastic bags should be banned in Virginia Beach.
Bosworth, Brandon. (2010,Apr. 22). Sea Turtles vs. Plastic Bags. Retrieved from http://news.change.org/stories/sea-turtles-vs -plastic-bags
Bushnell, K. (n.d.). Plastic Bags: What About Recycling Them?. Sierra Club.
Retrieve from http://www.sierraclub.org/sustainable_consumption/articles/bags2.asp
China bans the bag. (2008). Herizons.
Cook, Michelle. (2009, May 3). Wildlife have gutful of plastic bags. Retrieve from http://plasticbags.planetark.org/news/display/54
Dakins, E. (2008, May 13). Plastic or Paper?. Marketplace Magazine, 10, 30, Retrieved from http://elibrary.bigchalk.com/
Hickman, B. (2011, Sept. 12). How much does it cost to clean up plastic bags?. Surfrider Foundation.
Retrieve from http://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/how-much-does-it- cost-to-clean-up-plastic-bags
Lindsey, P. (2010). How effective have plastic bag bans and restrictions been on reducing litter and other problems associated with their proliferation. EarthTalk: Questions & Answers About Our Environment. A Weekly Column.
O’Donoghue, A.J. (2011, Sept. 18). Paper or plastic? Question goes to root of environmental problems. Deseret News.
Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/print/705391050/Paper-or- plastic-Question-goes-to-root-of-environmental-problem.html
Query, S. (2007). Paper or Plastic: the best answer may be ‘neither’.
Taylor, B. (2007). Coastal Habitats. Gareth Stevens Publishing.
Virginia Law Code. Regional and local solid waste management plans. (§ 10.1- 1411).
Walker, P. & Wood, E. (2005). The Saltwater Wetland. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.
Watson, T. (2004, Nov. 22) . S.F. considers 17-cent tax on grocery bags. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-11-22-sf- grocerybags_x.htm
Williams-Derry, C. (2011, Mar. 24). Three (Unexpected) Reasons to Support Oregon’s Plastic Bag Ban. Sightline Daily.
Retrieved from http://daily.sightline.org/2011/03/24/why-care-about-plastic-bags/
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