Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some thoughts on the Plastic Bag Ban in San Jose yesterday

Yesterday the San Jose City Council banned plastic single use bags making it the largest city to band them outright. This was a project that I worked on, as I have previously mentioned, while I was working for Kansen Chu. We generated the memo that led to this ban as a result of many influences and reasons but I really want to speak to a concern that many mentioned at the council meeting for this provision, including Councilmember Constant. There was a fear that during these times of economic hardships, this effort was unfair and unwise. I feel the need to speak to this from the point of reference of cost. Now while the costs of cleaning plastic bags from our streams, our oceans and eventually our food stream are as yet only speculative, we have to look at the current costs to our tax payers to deal with these plastic bags currently in our waste stream.

For the most part, plastic bags enter our waste stream through two sources, the trash/recycling stream and the bio-waste stream. For both of these streams there are major costs on cleaning the systems that these plastic bags "gum up." It costs thousands of dollars when sewage treatment plants and recycling plants are stopped as a result of gears being gunked up by a stray bag or two. In fact it has gotten to the point where recycling centers, which are required by state law to accept plastic and plastic bags, don't want the bags because they are losing money on them. To make up these funds, the recycling and processing centers will increase their rates which will instantly increase rates on taxpayers.

Just as a tangent, it should also be noted that these centers and municpalities are also required to take all forms of recyclable plastic but are unable to actually recycle all of them. Many of the bottles and containers are simply thrown away or shipped to China to be "taken care of."

The big issue that we were constantly speaking to was producer responsibility, the idea that those who generate products should take into account their entire life cycle including the waste stream aspect. Since the producers of these plastic bags seemed unable or unwilling to put forward the effort to deal with the wastestream end of their product, the costs will continue to be on the Municipalities and the tax payers.

In the end, eliminating the plastics from the system will cost far less to the people of San Jose then keeping them in the mix. Just food for thought.

Congrats San Jose, congrats.

Next step; paper bags and Styrofoam clam-shells.

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