In America, it’s typical to see people carrying their groceries out of the store in plastic bags, and although we all know it’s not good for the planet, we can’t seem to stop. I too have a horrible habit of forgetting my reusable carriers, and I feel a familiar guilt when I carry my monstrous amount of plastic waste out of the store time and time again. But, when I studied abroad in Ireland this summer, I realized that there is hope for me — and the rest of America — in the effort to reduce plastic bag waste.
It was my first grocery shopping experience in Ireland, and after a run through the local grocery store, I began to check out my items. However, I noticed something unusual: There wasn’t a place at the end of the aisle to bag up my groceries. Then, I saw that the other people leaving were stuffing their items in backpacks, purses and reusable bags. I asked the cashier if I could have a plastic bag and she looked at me like I was from Mars, saying, “That will be 10 cents a bag.” I was dumbfounded. How was I going to get my entire load of groceries home? I had no other choice and ended up spending over a euro just on bags.
Ireland has been charging a small tax on bags since 2002. They call it the PlasTax, and it was created for the soul purpose of reducing waste. The PlasTax has reduced consumption of plastic bags by over 90 percent, ridding the nation’s landfills of non-biodegradable waste and saving over 18 million liters of oil. They have also reduced waste by a rate of 1 billion bags per year, and the money the other 10 percent spent on bags is used toward a green fund, which helps the environment. Ireland was the first country to impose such a tax, and since then, many other countries have followed suit, such as Kenya, South Africa, Malaysia and Denmark. Some countries are even banning their use all together. But, this legislation is not meant to create revenue. It is meant to change the ways of customers, like me, with bad habits. And I must say, after shopping in Ireland, it works fast! I remembered my reusable bags when I went shopping consistently from that point on. As for the U.S., there is not a statewide ban or fee on plastic bags in any state. But, as of 2014, California, Massachusetts, and Washington are all considering such legislation. For more information about plastic bag legislation in the States, click here.