Paper or plastic? The answer to this common dilemma should be neither. Roughly 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States each year, according to Envirosax. One hundred billion of these bags are plastic shopping bags. And only 1 to 2 percent of these bags get recycled.
Additionally, Americans use more than 10 billion paper bags every year. That is approximately 14 million trees worth of paper bags.
The city of Austin alone uses around 263 million plastic bags yearly, unnecessarily filling up our landfills. It is about time our community took the initiative to help the environment and put a stop to the citywide use of paper and plastic bags.
The Austin City Council recently voted in favor of a ban on paper and plastic disposable bags at retailers throughout the city. Beginning in March of 2013, stores will not be permitted to give customers any bags unless they are made of cloth, made of durable materials, made of thicker paper or have handles. The ban exempts bags used for newspapers, restaurants and charitable groups.
Despite its good intention, the new bag ban has received many mixed reactions. Some Austinites and UT students are angered, believing that using bags should be a customer choice. Further, many people argue that they recycle their used bags, so they should not lose the opportunity to use them.
Although plastic bags are a convenient way to bring home shopping items, research suggests that most of them are only used once and then thrown away. Think about how many bags are wasted on the Drag everyday, between the Co-op, CVS, Campus Candy, Tyler’s and other stores. If UT students embraced the bag ban and took the initiative to bring their own bags to stores or put shopping items in their backpacks, the difference for the environment would be profound.
Fortunately, UT Co-op President George Mitchell does not believe that the bag ban will affect students shopping at the Co-op at all. Mitchell said the Co-op will spend an additional $7,000 every year on bags that meet the qualifications of the ban. Students will be able to go about their shopping as usual but take home their purchases in a more environmentally friendly way.
The time for change is now. Instead of thinking about the bag ban as a shopping nuisance, people need to look at the bigger picture. If the city of Austin is able to eliminate even 100 million plastic bags each year, the benefits would clearly outweigh the inconvenience. Keep Austin green.
Lapin is a journalism sophomore.