The problems with cheap plastic bags don’t end with environmental ramifications, according to Environment Oregon’s Sarah Higginbotham, and that’s why businesses and members of the recycling industry are joining environmentalists to support a Eugene ban on plastic grocery bags. The City Council voted unanimously (with Councilor Mike Clark absent) on Feb. 27 to draft a plastic bag ban ordinance.
The EPA reported that less than 5 percent of plastic grocery bags were recycled in 2010. Most of those that were recycled were shipped to China, where Higginbotham says they’re processed in a way that is toxic to workers and the environment. Those that aren’t recycled often find their way to the ocean, where they are particularly dangerous to marine wildlife.
When people put plastic bags into recycling, the bags often gum up the combing machines and cause the system to shut down so they can be cut out. The Association of Oregon Recyclers found that plastic bags — 0.1 percent of their recycling volume — caused up to 30 percent of their labor costs.
The price of plastic bags is currently built into the cost of groceries, so Higginbotham says that it’s fair to say that even people who already use reusable bags are paying for the widespread use of plastic — to the tune of 444 plastic bags per person per year in Oregon.
When people look at the list of ways plastic bags cause problems, Higginbotham says, they begin to see the topic as a common-sense lifestyle issue. “We don’t need them,” she says. “They’ve only been around for about 30 years and it’s unnecessary.”