by Donna Malloy
With the holiday season upon us, wouldn't it be nice if the acronym BYOB stood for "Bring Your Own Bag" vs. "Bring Your Own Bottle?" Around the world, environmentally conscious countries are doing their part to save the environment.
If you lived in Singapore, you'd know the first Wednesday of the month is "Bring Your Own Bag Day," otherwise known as BYOBD. Since April of 2007, Singapore shoppers have been encouraged to bring their own shopping bags vs. the use of plastic bags.
If you lived in Hong Kong, "No plastic bag day" went into effect in October of last year. Since then, Hong Kongers have been asked to "curb their love affair with the ubiquitous plastic bag when a 'no plastic bag day' initiative goes weekly," the Asia-Pacific News reported. "The development followed a survey by the environmental group Greener Action that showed 53 per cent of Hong Kong's people wanted the current monthly scheme to go weekly," according to the China Morning Post.
Local companies such as Mannings drug store chain, Circle K and 7-Eleven, which encompasses a total of 1,481 outlets, plan to participate in the weekly bag-free day.
To further implement the war on plastic bags, the government plans to introduce a 50-Hong-Kong-cent (6.4-US-cent) levy on each plastic bag. According to government statistics, Hong Kong uses 23 million plastic bags - more than three bags per person - every day.
If you lived in Fiji, you'd know that they celebrated their first "No Plastic Bags Day" in June of this year. It has been estimated that 250 million plastic bags are currently floating in the Pacific Ocean. Bio-degradable bags are now available at Morris Hedstrom Supermarkets and Homemakers and bear the slogan: "Plastic bags kill our ocean, but I don't."
The Fiji Department of Environment estimated there are "260 marine species already in great danger with some on the verge of extinction. These species include marine turtles, humphead wrasse, conch shells, squids, jelly fish and some coral species.
The joint statement by local companies and diplomatic missions, including the French and Japanese Embassy and the European Union said plastic bags were the ocean's worst enemy not only because they polluted beaches and poisoned lagoons, but also because they kill valued marine life and resources."
British retailers have pledged to reduce the use of plastic bags by 25% this year, while in Ireland, a 30-cents (20p) "plastax" is charged for each bag. Since 2002, when this "plastax" was implemented, Ireland has claimed a 90% reduction in the use of the plastic bag.
The governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Zanzibar have banned the use of plastic bags altogether. And as of June of this year, China claims to be plastic free, and bags are surcharged in Germany, South Africa and Israel.
If you lived in Los Angeles, you'd know that in July of this year, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban plastic shopping bags in grocery and retail stores by July of 2010 if California fails to impose a 25-cent fee on every shopper who requests plastic bags.
If you lived in Florida, you'd know that supermarket giant Publix sells 100% recycled bags for 99-cents. According to Media & Community Relations Manager Shannon Patten, Publix has experienced "a decrease" in the use of plastic and they also post "reminders" at the supermarket chains' front door not to forget your reusable bags the next time you shop at Publix.
Each year, Publix recycles "7,500 tons of plastic and cardboard, saving 2.5 million barrels of oil," stated Patten. Publix wants consumers to have a choice. Publix Associates Political Action Committee opposes charging a fee for plastic bags: "Publix supports efforts to protect our environment and reduce the number of plastic bags sent to landfills every year. We believe this is best done by encouraging recycling and the use of reusable bags, not by government-imposed bans or fees on bags."
But, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, only 1% of plastic bags were recycled in 2000, against twenty percent for paper bags. They endanger wildlife and particularly sea life such as turtles and dolphins which can die of entanglement, suffocation, and ingestion because they assume that these bags are jellyfish.
The raw material of plastic bags is oil. Therefore, the more we use plastic bags, the more we waste oil-a non-renewable energy source. The petroleum-based plastic bags take decades to break down, so if they are not recycled, they litter. It creates visual pollution: in the streets, on the beaches, etc. Also, they can close roadside drains, which could cause street flooding during heavy rainfall."
So, what can one person do to help save the environment? You can start by BYOB the next time you shop, which has a lower impact on the environment. You can line your trash can with your plastic shopping bags and you can reuse your plastic shopping bags for storage; one day, one bag at a time.
Paper bags are a better choice than paper bags, but the best choice is reusing your recycled bags. Paper bags generate 70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags, and it takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.
In a perfect world, we'd get rid of plastic bags altogether.
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