Can we get rid of plastic bags?

They’re doing it in China, one of the most polluted countries in the world, so why can’t we do it here in the United States?

A strict Chinese limit on ultra-thin plastic bags significantly reduced bag-related pollution nationwide during the past year. The country avoided the use of 40 billion bags, according to government estimates.

Plastic bags are commonly found in waterways, on beaches, and in other “unofficial” dumping sites across China. Litter caused by the notorious bags has been referred to as “white pollution.”

The State Council, China’s parliament, responded in January 2008 by prohibiting shops, supermarkets, and sales outlets from providing free plastic bags that are less than 0.025 millimeters thick.

The State Administration of Industry and Commerce also threatened to fine shopkeepers and vendors as much as 10,000 yuan (US$1,465) if they were caught distributing free bags.

In its first review of the ban, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced earlier this month that supermarkets reduced plastic bag usage by 66 percent since the policy became effective last June. The limit in bag production saved China 1.6 million tons of petroleum, the NDRC estimated.

Prior to the ban, an estimated 3 billion plastic bags were used daily across China, creating more than 3 million tons of garbage each year. China consumed an estimated 5 million tons (37 million barrels) of crude oil annually to produce plastics for packaging.

The amount of garbage generated by these bags, which take roughly 100 years to decompose, is staggering. More and more jurisdictions around the world are banning or taxing the bags. It seems like a logical step, though I suspect the oil lobby might have something to say about it.

Exciting times

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We’re launching this blog at a time that’s very exciting for those of us who want to see a greener future for America and the world. For years we have relied on abundant but dirty energy. Now we’re seeing the ill effects of these practices.

Due to a number of factors ranging from global warming to our dependence on foreign oil, a consensus is building around the notion that we need to change things here at home. There will be plenty of discussion and disagreement around the specifics, but most agree that we can make tremendous progress by encouraging conservation and renewable fuels.

The House just passed a cap-and-trade bill, so the debate will be heating up. We hope to contribute by highlighting information and arguments that will help advance the debate.

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