Sunday, June 14, 2009

Global ban on plastic bags? Sure, when it is practical

There was an interesting article in Wall Street Journal last week (Paper or Plastic? A New Look at the Bag Scourge) that attempts to cast doubts over the strategy of city planners and municipalities around the world that have passed laws, or are in the process of passing laws, banning supermarkets and grocery stores from giving away plastic bags


Keith Johnson, in a WSJ Blog continues the thread, prompting us to comment on the issue: So EC readers, what to do about the bag conundrum? Paper, plastic, or neither? So here is my two cents based on my observations in a few countries across continents.

Delhi, India: Here is an extract from an article "Delhi government has finally notified a blanket ban on plastic bags in 2009. According to the notification use, storage and sale of plastic bags of any kind or thickness, in all places where one gets the bags after shopping, are banned. Anyone guilty of breaking the ban faces a maximum penalty of Rs 1 lakh (about $2,000) or five years’ imprisonment or both, says the Environment Protection Act."
During a trip to India a few months ago, I was at the receiving end of this ban: most grocery shops and retailers have already stopped giving away plastic bags. Thankfully I was aware of this and I took along a reusable cloth bag for the little shopping I had to do. Given the low cost of labor, some retailers in India do have a cheaper paper alternative: reuse newspaper/magazines to make paper bags. No, I am not talking about industrial machining and recycling but doing it the old-fashioned way: getting labor, ragpickers to fold-and-paste-bags from used newspapers and magazines. This unfashionable origami kills two birds with one stone: it is practical and will provide some income to the masses; and contribute to lessening the greenhouse gas emissions: no additional trees cut to make paper bags.

Basel, Switzerland: I spent a few months in the lovely Swiss town of Basel earlier this year. Swiss and Europeans are certainly practicing what they preach. Though there is no official ban that I am aware of, many grocery stores "train"their customers to bring their own bags by not giving plastic bags unless a customer asks: The strategy simple; use the "shame" factor: you don’t want rest of the folks waiting in the checkout queue to see you Athe checkout clerk for a plastic bag, so very soon you learn to bring your own reusable bag. And if you forget, and are a proud Swss, you do the right thing: you fork out a Frank or two for a reusable bag available for you at the checkout counter. What do you do with the additional bag? Add it to your collection at home and remember to get it with you the next time. Per the argument in WSJ, a reusable bag pays for itself if used at least four times.

Anytown, USA: Wal-marts and other large retailers in Anytown, America continue to be generous when it comes to plastic bags. Many checkout clerks will still double-bag the gallon of milk for you, even without asking.

What would I prefer? Being green! And, I guess, I need to learn to be polite and forceful the next time the girl at the checkout double-bags my gallon of mile: no thanks. . . . . and hope that those behind me in the queue are watching and getting the hint. As for getting them to follow? Well, I guess for that we will have to wait for WSJ to write an article telling them that the argument is beyond plastic or paper.

Other bloggers on the WSJ writeup: