From the June 2008 Idaho Observer:

Self-government and plastic bags

We never really "throw plastic bags away"—we merely "send them downstream"

It is estimated that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Less than one percent of them are recycled and it costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one. "There’s harsh economics behind bag recycling: It costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32," observed Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment

So where are all these bags going?

• A study in 1975, showed oceangoing vessels together dumped 8 million pounds of plastic annually. The real reason that the world’s landfills weren’t overflowing with plastic was because most of it ended up in an "ocean-fill".

~-U.S. National Academy of Sciences

• Plastic bags get blown around to different parts of the planet, frequently ending up in our seas, lakes and rivers. They find their way into the sea via drains and sewage pipes. November 16, 2007

• Plastic bags have been found floating north of the Arctic Circle near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands. ~British Antarctic Survey

• Plastic bags account for over 10 percent of the debris washed up on the U.S. coastline. ~National Marine Debris Monitoring Program

• Plastic bags photodegrade: Over time they break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers eventually contaminating soils and waterways. As a consequence microscopic particles can enter the food chain. November 16, 2007

• The effect on wildlife can be catastrophic. Birds have been found terminally entangled in plastic. Nearly 200 different species of sea life including whales, dolphins, seals and turtles have died due to plastic bags. They die after ingesting plastic bags which they mistake for food. ~World Wildlife Fund Report, 2005

• Plastic shopping bags are made from polyethylene: a thermoplastic made from oil. November 16, 2007

So what should we do?

• By taking a cloth bag to the store, six plastic bags a week are not put into the waste stream. That’s 24 bags a month; 288 bags a year; 22,176 bags saved in a lifetime. If just 1 out of 5 people in our country did this we would save 1,330,560,000,000 bags over our life time.

• Bangladesh has banned plastic bags., March 8, 2007

• China has banned free plastic bags., January 9, 2008

• Ireland took the lead in Europe, taxing plastic bags in 2002 and have now reduced plastic bag consumption by 90%. ~BBC News, August 20, 2002

• In 2005, Rwanda banned plastic bags. ~Associated Press

• Israel, Canada, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, and Singapore have also banned or are moving toward banning the plastic bag., February 16, 2008

• On March 27, 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags. ~National Public Radio

• Oakland, Calif. and Boston, Mass. have considered banning plastic bags. ~The Boston Globe, May 20, 2007

You, too, can "just say no" to plastic shopping bags as an exercise in self-government.