I’ve noticed a dramatic change when going into my local grocery store lately. Instead of automatically bagging goods into single use plastic bags people are now bringing in reusable canvas bags, using old bags they already have, or just carrying the items they buy in their hands. It’s amazing to see how a simple change in policy is inspiring people to re-think everyday tasks and their impacts.
The Alameda County single-use plastic bag ban went into effect January 1st of this year and it is already making noticeable impacts. As I waited in line at the store I asked the guy behind me what he thought of the ban. He said, “At first I was surprised I couldn’t get my usual plastic bag, but now I hang my canvas bags on my door knob and make sure to bring them with me. I guess it’s a good decision to reduce the pollution plastic bags create.”
And reducing pollution is exactly what the ban is doing. I’ve seen the effects first hand. On the street where I live, I used to notice countless plastic bags littered from the local corner store. Discarded once out of the store, the bags blow in the wind into the street, and then with the rains are washed down into the storm drain… and then into the Bay.
It is estimated that 1 million plastic bags enter the San Francisco Bay each year. These plastic bags have been found to be used on average for only about 12 minutes, and never decompose. Plastics, instead of biodegrading, “photo-degrade” which means decomposers don’t actually break them down, but the sun causes them to break into smaller and smaller pieces that virtually never go away. These bits of plastic are then ingested by wildlife mistaken as food which causes suffocation, malnutrition and fatality. Plastic bags also clog water ways, entangle wildlife, and in general diminish the beauty of the Bay with pollution. But now that the store no longer gives them to their customers, my street is free of plastic bags, which means less pollution getting into the bay and harming wildlife.
When I asked the cashier what people were saying about the ban, she explained “In the beginning some people were upset, but now, just a few short weeks later, people are already accustomed to it.” And that’s what it’s all about: Changing our habits. Every plastic bag we don’t use is a step toward changing our ways for a more sustainable future and a cleaner Bay.