According to a report on CBS-Denver, “Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has proposed a five-cent fee for every disposable bag used at grocery and convenience stores in the city limits.” Under the current proposal 60% of this fee would go to the city while 40% would go to vendors. The estimates of combined generated revenues according to CBS-Denver is in excess of 6 million of dollars! While many will consider 2 million dollars in handling fees an excessive cost, and a potential ‘tax on the poor’; I would like to propose that there are at minimum five reasons why ‘Plastic user fees’ are of value.
1. Plastic pollution is a real and present danger to our environment. Researchers at the 5 Gyres Institute have found significant evidence that plastic pollution is a global issue polluting the natural homes off both land, sea and air animals around the globe. In a lab project for 7th to 12th graders indicates that some bird colonies have as much as 80% of their populations that have consumed plastic in their diet.
2. User fees are proven to change consumption patterns. According to an interview by NPR’s Michel Martin, Michael Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper indicates that plastic bag consumption went from over 22 million bags on a monthly basis to about 3 million. Community governments around the country are seeing the reduction of single use plastic as additional fees encourage citizens to modify consumption patterns and incorporate more conservation minded practices into their daily lives.
3. Single Use plastic bags have low plastic recycling demand. Consider that while many grocery and chain retail locations provide recycling collection of single use bags, curbside recycling does not. Because the plastic density and composition of these bags there is little demand for this grade of plastic. This limited demand means little to no profit margin, and can actually be a financial burden to waste management which is why these plastics are restricted from community recycling programs.
4. Plastic does not decompose. Instead it behaves like rock in that it breaks down into smaller portions of itself. Plastic is made through a chemical manufacturing process called polymerization, and is designed to be a lightweight alternative for manufacturing, storage and transportation costs. Unfortunately, the only way to convert plastic back to natural materials is to reverse manufacture them via a process called depolymerization. Studies by the 5 Gyres Institue show how plastics of all sizes are contaminating oceans and beaches around the planet as well as all five great lakes.
5. Plastic is made up of oil, a primary source of single use consumption on the planet. A report by Friends of the Earth states, “Humans today extract and use around 50% more natural resources than only 30 years ago, at about 60 billion tonnes of raw materials a year”. This includes increasing levels of oil consumption globally that has pushed for the expansion of environmentally dangerous sources of gas and oil collection like Bitumen Tar Sands and Hydraulic Fracturing.
So while the current proposal before Denver’s City Council may not be the version that gets a final vote, I hope that you will agree that the prospect of such an action is a timely and responsible course in environmental responsibility. If you are not already in the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags, your family and friends may thank you, plus think of all the money you will be saving once the fee’s begin!