BY FIONA HINDS ’21
The town of South Hadley initiated a ban on singleuse plastic bags in July 2018, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Stores throughout the town have transitioned to offering only paper, compostable, biodegradable or reusable bags. Voters approved this plan during the April 2017 town election with a vote of 921 infavor and 552 against. As of October 2018, 85 towns across Massachusetts, including Amherst and Northampton, have implemented plastic bag regulations.
“I agree with the decision to ban them because we have seen how bad an impact they have on the environment,” said Rachel Moses ’21, a South Hadley resident. “Most people don’t reuse plastic bags, so the incentive to bring your own bag is greater because you have to pay for your own bag. A good incentive for a good habit.”
Plastic bags are extremely harmful to the environment. According to the EPA, plastic, especially in bodies of water, poses both a physical and chemical threat to marine and human life. Physical threats include entanglement of animals, reef destruction and gastrointestinal blockage, while chemical threats include bioaccumulation of chemicals found in plastic. Plastic is often mistaken as food by birds, fish and other marine animals and is ingested, leading to severe injury or death of the animal. It is also estimated to take up to 1,000 years to fully decompose, meaning it remains a threat in the environment for just as long. While large swaths of pollution, such as the Pacific Garbage Patch, are the most well-known, plastic pollution is found in most marine habitats, such as coral reefs, lakes, beaches, estuaries and the deep sea.
Banning single-use plastics bags is not uncommon. According to a study done by Reuse This Bag, a website which aims to reduce plastic bag usage, notes that the average single-use plastic bag is used for 12 minutes before being discarded. Discarded plastic bags often end up in sewers or drains, and kill an estimated 100,000 marine mammals every year. Banning or reducing the amount of plastic bags results in largely positive outcomes. San Jose, California reported an 89 percent reduction of plastic bags in storm drains and a 60 percent reduction of plastic bags in rivers after enacting a ban, while San Francisco, California saved up to $600,000 per year in plastic processing fees. Currently, plastic bags are banned in 32 countries worldwide, with 18 of the 32 located in Africa.
Plastic bags in the United States are still largely unregulated. California banned plastic bags in 2016 and Hawaii in 2015. Washington, D.C. has implemented a tax on plastic bags. Similarly, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Delaware have recycling and repurposing programs in place. However, ten states have laws against the regulation of plastic bags. According to the Washington Post, in 2016 Michigan passed a law prohibiting local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on plastic bag usage. Idaho, Missouri and Arizona have all passed similar laws.
“Whenever you go to a grocery store, they no longer ask if you prefer paper or plastic, they only have paper,” said Emma Goldin ’21, who lives outside of San Francisco, California in Marin County. “I believe it’s a good thing because it helps the environment, since the Bay Area is so close to the Pacific Ocean. This way, we’re not sending plastic bags into the ocean.”