Notable Ocean Quotable: plastic bags

“There is no reason a product we use for a few minutes should float in our oceans for a few hundred years.”

Dave Mathews of Environment Oregon

After the state legislature failed to take decisive action to reduce Oregonians’ use of single-use plastic bags, a mosaic of activists, conservationists and just plain sensible people are working in cities and counties across the state to take action to reduce this most destructive habit of consumers.

Santa Cruz battles bags – DC already did

Santa Cruz County supervisors voted today to ban retail establishments from giving customers plastic bags. It looks like the ordinance probably won’t take effect for a year, will cost the county at least $100,000 for an environmental study, and won’t apply to retailers in incorporated cities. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Plastics, as we know, are choking our oceans, the waterways that feed into the oceans, and the shorelines that edge them. It’s an overwhelming problem, and it may end up being mostly solved through small steps like the one Santa Cruz committed to this afternoon.

A city that isn’t even on an ocean provides a breathtaking model of what one measure can do to battle this scourge. On New Year’s Day, Washington DC officials imposed a 5-cent bag tax on plastic and paper bags at every retail establishment that serves food. There was trepidation, and there were some rather nutty negative reactions to the tax.

But the city’s tally after just 1 month astonished nearly everyone, and speaks to an enormous power to transform – from issuing an average of 22.5 million bags per month in 2009, DC businesses gave out just 3.3 million bags in the first month of the tax. It was such a surprising result that many people hardly cared that the drastically reduced consumption also decreased the money the tax is raising for cleanup of the Anacostia River.

The debates and costly assessments rage on around the country, but the proof of DC is hard to dispute – a nickel tax per bag immediately cut consumption by roughly 85% percent (!!) – without cash- and time-sucking impact statements or years of legal delays.