Photo of a plastic bag as trash for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter website

If you have read comments in the Los Alamos Monitor, Los Alamos Daily Post, or savethebaglosalamos.blogspot.com, you have seen that well-meaning people are either uninformed, misinformed, or have been activated by the American Chemical Association (ACA) to fight a ban on the single-use disposable plastic shopping bag. An interesting assertion from the save-the-baggers is that bags aren’t a problem locally or globally, and there are no bags blowing around Los Alamos.

In order to help inform the savethebaggers, we have the opportunity to offer some data. All we need to do is take a photo of whatever feral bag we find, caption it (location is good), then upload it to Instagram by using:

tag@banthebagLosAlamos or #banthebagLosAlamos. Enlist your friends, and then don’t forget to become our friend on www.facebook.com/NoMorePlasticBags, where you can see your photos posted.

Sign the bag-ban petition on paper (call an Executive Committee member) or online.

Talking points to Ban the Bag

Here are some talking points related to Los Alamos that will help people understand the expense of this free use-once-and-toss item. It only takes a few minutes of searching the web to understand what a serious global problem these bags are. Some questions to ask (and then listen to their response):

  • What do you want your legacy to be?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice the health of your grandchildren and the environment for the mere convenience of carrying something from the store to your car?
  • When you shop at Costco or Sam’s, do you get bags?
  • If your objection to a ban is that you don’t want more government control, would you let the market drive consumption? (The plastic bag is not free for the merchant; would you be willing to pay 10 cents for a bag?)

Facts about plastic bags

Fact 1: The only bag to be banned is the single-use disposable carry-out plastic shopping bag. These are the brown Smiths/white Walmart bags made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Fact 2: Stores will charge for paper bags so that they can recoup the significantly higher cost of paper. It is not a tax. It is a market-driven cost. We’re trying to increase the incentive to reuse. We want to make clear what goes into a plastic bag—all the resources, energy, impacts to human health and the environment — something with as many impacts shouldn’t be a frivolous item that we get for free and then throw away. Bring your own bag, and you don’t have to pay.

Fact 3: For dog/cat bags, the many options include veggie bags, toilet paper bags, diaper bags, take-home food bags (none of which are banned). Check your house for bag-replacement opportunities; for garbage, you can buy bags. The point is to eliminate the 9 bags/person/week.Why is this becoming an issue worldwide? Waste, cost, environment, and human health.

Good news, bad news about recycling

Good news: the old Smiths had the highest number of bring-their-own-bags shoppers in the state, and White Rock was ninth. Smiths even worked with PEEC and Mountain School to distribute reusable bags in 2009 and set up the bag-recycling bins in the store.

Good news: Public Works Director Philo found a recycler who will take plastic bags for Los Alamos: Friedman Recycling in Rio Rancho. Yes, we can recycle now, but why recycle when you can eliminate the bag in the first place by simply bringing your own?

Bad news: Unless Friedman Recycling has a market for bags, the bags get trucked to the Rio Rancho

Good news: More than 75 percent are reused before being trashed.

Bad news: Only 1 percent to 3 percent of bags are recycled; That’s about 30 million that are just trashed.

More facts

Los Alamos County residents (excluding the Laboratory) generate 30-40 tons of trash a week. Smiths shoppers use 330,000 plastic bags=2-tons/month. Two tons of the 30 tons of county waste per month are

Each American uses an average of 500 single-use plastic carry-out bags a year. That’s over 9 bags per week, which equals 1.2 billion per year. Just in the United States. A trillion are used annually worldwide. The number of plastic shopping bags in the U.S. equals 100 billion per year, which equals 12 million barrels of oil to make that many bags (according to The Wall Street Journal). If a percentage of that oil is coming from the Middle East, our use of the disposable bag becomes a national security issue.

The cost to U.S. retailers for the100 billion bags is $4 billion. (The Wall Street Journal). Even retailers like Krogers are getting involved and proposing a fee on bags.

A car could drive about 11 meters on the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag.

Multiple impacts to the environment include:

  • Extraction of petroleum and all its related pollutants.
  • Water consumption in plastic production.
  • Chemical contamination of groundwater from buried plastic leaching toxins in landfills.
  • Greenhouse gases from incineration of plastics and landfill venting (methane), and carbon use in transportation from production sources to the consumer and back to plastic-recycling locations.
  • Plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it degrades into chemicals and nurdles (plastic pellets) that get into the ecosystem and are ingested or absorbed by plants, wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.
  • Plastics suffocate plant life and plankton. 
  • Because multiple species mistake plastic for food, wildlife ingests it or becomes entangled in it.

Scientists estimate bag litter will survive for 1,000 years. These bags do not biodegrade, but simply degrade, and during that process last several hundred years and become a hazard and nuisance to humans and animals alike.

Humans have discarded 100 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium cites 97.5 percent of albatross chicks on an island 1,000 miles from the nearest big city have plastic in their stomachs.

Plastic is not inert, but contains several chemicals with toxic potential including PCBs, Phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl esters, tetrabromobisphenol A, bisphenol A, phthalate, micro plastics. These chemicals cause endocrine disruption (effecting sexual development) that can result in

  • breast cancer
  • neuroblastomas
  • prostate cancer
  • DNA methylation-production disruption
  • potential latent intergenerational impacts, obesity by mimicking hormones, interfering with metabolism and being toxic to gut bacteria
  • estrogen sensitivity leading to fertility problems, advanced puberty, altered and reproductive function and mammary development, hormone-related cancers.

What’s the point of a ban?

We want a cultural shift away from use-and-toss culture: Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags. We’re trying to join multiple other citizens uniting for the future including: PEEC, Mountain School, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Portland, South Padre Island, Austin, and countries like Germany, South Africa, Italy, Australia, (outright ban in supermarkets 2008) India, (OB in area’s including Mumbai), Somalia, Botswana, Philippines, (OB, coming soon) Uganda, Kenya, Japan, Turkey, Zanzibar, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, South Korea, Singapore, Sweden, Bhutan, Malta, and China. In the US, the ACA has tried to first prevent, then overturn every single bag ban. The ACA is First, continue the educational effort. But along with that, we want to be more aggressive.

For that we have two alternatives—and we welcome more

Our official stand is that we want to ban bags outright as have so many other countries and communities; however, because most of the objections to a legislative bag ban involve resistance to more, intrusive government legislation, our talking points must include discussing a market-driven approach that would impose a fee on bags—plastic and paper, with the money going back to the retailer.

A bag ban is legislative, a bag fee is market driven. In imposing a fee on all bags we would allow shoppers who forgot their bags to pay the extra, but have a monetary incentive to encourage people to bring their own. Does this work? Yes. One primary example is Ireland: Ireland imposed a tax on single-use disposable shopping bags (including paper): Even though people buy trash bags, the Irish Department of the Environment study showed has dropped approximately 93.5%., from 1.2 billion to 230 million per year.. This equals a drop in per-person usage from 328 to 21 bags each year. Litter has been dramatically reduced. Approximately 18,000,000 liters of oil have been saved due to reduced production of bags.Remind people that we are in the new geologic era of the Plasticine. We focus on just the bag because it’s doable. Consciousness is raised one idea, one action at a time. Let’s start where we can. Like the mighty dinosaur said: “I didn’t spend 100-million years transforming into petroleum to become a single-use disposable plastic bag.”

Jody Benson, Pajarito Group Newsletter Editor

‘Save the Bag’ comes to Los Alamos