Progress should always be celebrated, but sometimes I worry that small victories allow for complacency.
In conservation, banning something doesn’t mean the job is done. Consider any bans on palm oil and how that’s working out. Or when the public successfully lobbied so hard against SeaWorld that they ended their breeding program in 2016, and yet those whales remain in captivity and still exist in the same pools that caused outrage a few years ago. So what happened? A small victory did. The public felt good. And then they quietly moved on.
So while banning single-use plastic bags is a move in the right direction – that can’t be all we do. It’s crucial that we consider long term solutions to plastic pollution, whether or not certain alternatives will also be harmful long term, and the most environmentally friendly processes we can have from start to finish (breaking down naturally in the environment.)
That said… this article from WRI is a must read.
“It’s encouraging that local governments are focusing on passing laws to fight plastic litter. Unfortunately, while these laws may reduce the most visible form of plastic pollution, it could be at the expense of other environmental impacts. That’s because, somewhat ironically, disposable plastic bags require fewer resources (land, water, CO2 emissions, etc.) to produce than paper, cotton or reusable plastic bags—by a wide margin.
For example, Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food found that you would need to reuse a paper bag at least 43 times for its per-use environmental impacts to be equal to or less than that of a typical disposable plastic bag used one time. An organic cotton bag must be reused 20,000 times to produce less of an environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag. That would be like using a cotton bag every day for nearly 55 years. (Note that these figures aggregate the bags’ impact on water use, CO2 emissions, land use and more, but they do not include their impact on plastic pollution.)
Banning plastic straws is also increasingly popular. Starbucks recently announced that it would phase out use of plastic straws by the year 2020. Straws don’t provide as much utility as bags, so for many this is an easy adjustment.
But these bans leave the impression that they solve the plastic pollution problem without much discussion of systematic solutions. As a society, we should think holistically about the products we use and their impacts. We can’t just ban bad products – we must invest in alternatives.”