Last week, it seemed environmentalists had hit a wall. The California Legislative branch was set to vote on a statewide plastic bag ban. The state would have been the first to put a ban on the destructive bags. The bill was defeated last week much to the dismay of California environmentalists and even Governor Schwarzenegger, who was in support of the ban. Many believed the state would have saved millions on the cost of cleaning up discarded and pollutant bags. Although the bill had big names and the public backing it, the plastic bag industry lobbyists did their dirty work.

This statewide ban comes on the back of the city of San Francisco plastic bag ban of 2007. The ban, considered successful applies to all chain grocery and convenience stores. The city reduced plastic bag production and waste by 5 million bags a month! Residents haven’t seem to take issue with it and do not mind bringing their own re-usable bags shopping. The ban in San Francisco brought world-wide attention and other cities and countries around the world have followed suit. China, who banned free plastic bags in 2008, reduced plastic bag consumption by 66% and saved 1.6 million tons of petroleum.

These are staggering results and US cities can learn from them. In fact other cities in California are looking to institute their own bans, similar to San Francisco, due to the failure of the Senate including Santa Cruz. Although, California is known for its cutting edge environmental policies, a small city out of Texas is gaining some attention from the state’s failed ban. Brownsville, Texas, a city of about 140,000, passed their own ban the same week in which California’s failed. The ban will bar any supermarkets from giving plastic bags for free, but they will still be available for purchase at $1 a bag. Although the ban takes effect January 5th, the city is already gearing up and during the fall, they will be doing exchange drives for recyclable and reusable bags.

It is unfortunate that bans need to be placed in the first place, but if your city still allows plastic to be given for free, take a stand. When you shop bring reusable bags with you, encourage family and friends to do the same by giving reusable bags as gifts, and suggest to your neighborhood grocery store to start giving incentives for people to give up the plastic bag. Many stores have already instituted a discount for those who bring their own bags. If that’s not enough, contact your city or state council leaders to consider similar bans.
It is not often that an environmental leader such California, takes cues from unexpected ground breakers such as Texas or even China, but hopefully it will help drive the message: something has got to change. Plastic bags are in fact a unneccesary component of modern life. As consumers, it is our responsibility to change the industry with our buying power instead of relying on the government (especially when pandering to lobbyists) to solve the plastic problem.

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