I wrote this back in 2008: Lately there has been a few of the country’s mayors calling for an end to the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag. In San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made the call as did Commissioner Sam Adams here in Portland. Nothing much happened once everyone realized that it would take a tax on the bags to bring an end to their use. Business pushed back. But in Ireland the answer was to bring in a tax and have a forceful environment minister give reluctant shopkeepers little wiggle room, making it illegal for them to pay for the bags on behalf of customers.
The NYT ran the story -”In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts – within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.”
And don’t think that paper bags are the answer, yes they may degrade in landfills but more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags.
The campaign was incredibly successful even though it meant adding a tax penalty to both shoppers and grocery store owners to make it work. It is not hard to switch peoples social behaviour when it is seen to be for a social good. It was made clear to the Irish that the amount of energy that went into manufacturing plastic bags, that were all destined to end up in landfills anyway, was not sustainable.
Reusable shopping bags, not paper bags, were the answer and the Irish bought that argument.
The Irish now pack reusable bags in their cars and offices and carry them with them on buses when they go shopping. It’s simple and effective and it is a small step toward energy independence. Portland can do it.
Mayor Sam Adams' Anti-plastic bag proposal
California's plastic bag ban
Plastic bags kill marine life
Fred Meyer grocery store ends plastic bag use