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At the outset of efforts to combat the plastic pollution crisis, local and state governments across the U.S. are focused on banning single-use plastic bags. As these efforts gain headway, however, several studies have emerged challenging the effectiveness of bag bans. These studies – and their coverage in the media – are causing some confusion among consumers and legislators. Studies critiquing plastic bag bans don’t account for the broader scope of plastics – and they shouldn’t be taken as an excuse not to ban bags at all.

A more recent study from a researcher at the University of Sydney found that California’s bag ban led to a moderate increase in paper bag usage and pushed some customers to buy thicker plastic bags. The study suggests these thicker bags were purchased to replace the secondary use of free, single-use plastic bags as trashcan liners or to pick up pet waste. As a comparison of weight, the study reported that 28.5% of the plastic reduced through a bag ban was offset by shifting consumption to other bags.

The upshot of the Sydney study is that the California bag ban reduced plastic bag consumption by 71.5% – a huge decrease. It also took 100% of those plastic grocery bags out of the recycling system, where they bound up machinery and increased costs. The ban also kept them from littering neighborhoods and the environment.

While the Sydney study is cited as a criticism of bag bans, it also shows how successful they are in reducing plastic bag use. The study also indicates that bans don’t go far enough to end the plastic crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a temporary return to single-use plastic – public officials and businesses throughout New England have curbed the use of reusable coffee cups, delayed plastic bag bans, and temporarily banned reusable bags from grocery stores. These decisions were made to protect public health, but in the past few months the following facts have come to light:

  • The driving force linking COVID-19 with reusable bags was not public health officials, but the plastics industry;

  • Evidence and statements from the public health community make clear that there is no known contact transmission of the coronavirus on any surface, including reusable bags; and

  • Even if the coronavirus were to be transmitted via contact, the virus has a longer life on plastic than other materials.

Updated: Sep 2

Kenya is considered to have the strictest penalties in the world, making manufacturing, importing or selling single-use carriers punishable by a prison sentence of up to four years or fines up to $40,000. Anyone caught using them also faces a fine, which so far has been between $300 and $1,500, and a possible prison sentence of up to a year.

But there are some exceptions to the law: certain kinds of single-use plastic bags are still allowed for garbage bin liners, medical waste, construction and for packaging foods like bread, as well as the use of cling film (like Saran wrap).

Two years on, as the country prepares to roll out new limits on more single-use plastic items ― banning plastics from parks and beaches effective June 2020 ― the success of Kenya’s bag ban remains mixed. 

Officials, activists and local vendors are among those who say the law is responsible for cleaner streets and there is some evidence that plastic bag use has been drastically reduced. But, even with the harsh penalties, plastic bag pollution hasn’t been completely eliminated in Kenya, and plastic bags ― both legal and illegal ― continue to make their way onto the country’s streets.

And one of the biggest questions remains: How do you create a bag ban that works?


Amid dismal crop yields due to recurring drought spells triggered by the impacts of climate change, farmers across Tanzania have switched to growing protein-rich oyster mushrooms to raise incomes, improve livelihoods, and protect forests. Tanzania has one of the highest rates of deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa, with around 372,000 hectares of forests destroyed every year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Tall trees -- which prevent soil erosion, freshen air and water, and slow down impacts of climate change -- are being slashed as demand for wood surges, local analysts say.

While mushrooms have traditionally been eaten in different parts of Tanzania, most farmers picked them from the wild and did not grow them commercially.

The government and various non-profit organizations are now touting commercial production of oyster mushrooms, to increase incomes and curb deforestation.

Local farmers, who depend on rain-fed crop growing and charcoal burning, are learning new skills to grow environmentally friendly mushrooms.

At the Mahenge village in the Morogoro region, Elizabeth Kitama is busy stuffing rice husks mixed with mushroom spawns in small glass bottles.

ABOUT US >

Planet First Foundation is an environmental nonprofit  charity that is committed to reducing reliance on single-use plastics in increasing recycling to reduce our footprint.

Founded in the United States in 2019 by Samuel Melnick, Planet First Foundation is focused on becoming one of the most effective organizations targeting a reduction of the excess creation of non-recyclable waste.  Scientists have long recognized that plastics biodegrade slowly, if at all, and pose multiple threats to wildlife on land and in oceans through entanglement and consumption.  More recent reports highlight dangers posed by absorption of toxic chemicals in the water and by plastic odors that mimic some species’ natural food.

 

Our task is not an easy one ... Between 1989 and 1994 the beverage industry spent $14 million to defeat the National Bottle Bill.  But plastic ends up buried underneath tons of trash.  Its harmful toxic chemicals  leach into the ground and into groundwater potentially contaminating drinking water supplies, rivers, streams, and eventually the ocean.

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