Story last updated at 7/6/2011 - 2:24 pm
The nonprofit Juneau-based group Turning the Tides is soliciting signatures on a petition to put a plastic bag tax on the October ballot. Registered voters are invited to keep an eye out for volunteers with petitions lurking in public places all over Juneau over the next few weeks. You can even have someone knock on your door if you call (907) 789-0449.
Disposable plastic shopping bags are a huge problem for the environment, but Juneau residents use and discard over four million of them every year. The proposed tax, which the group considers a modest starting point in transforming this habit, would only apply to Juneau's largest retailers, Wal-mart, Safeway, and Fred Meyer, and would impose on these vendors a 15 cent tax on each bag they give away, if the ballot measure passes.
To encourage use of reusable tote bags, Turning the Tides is partnering with The Glory Hole to produce free shopping bags out of donated clothing. They will be distributed at supermarkets. (Paper bags have an even worse carbon footprint than plastic, with the environmental burden occurring early in the product's lifecycle rather than at the end.)
To raise awareness of the many health and environmental problems that arise from the use of plastics, including impaired fertility, heart trouble, early puberty, and obesity, and the tragic deaths of whales, sea birds, dolphins, and turtles, Turning the Tides is sponsoring a series of free movies at the Nickelodeon. On Wednesday July 13, this will be "Plastic Planet" at 7 p.m. Petitions will be available for signing at this event.
If you have trouble remembering your tote bags when you go to the store, Turning the Tides offers free car window reminder decals. And if you think you need plastic shopping bags for dog poop or kitty litter or wastebasket liners, Turning the Tides offers several "green" alternatives for each purpose; ask for a free handout.
Turning the Tides can make a speaker available for a short presentation at your club, civic group or neighborhood association meeting. They plan to be out in force at the Fourth of July parades with plenty of petitions.
Plastic bag bans, fees and taxes now apply to vendors in a large part of the world. A ban was put in place in Bangladesh in 2002 because bags clogged sewers and drains leading to massive floods in 1988 and 1998. In other locales there is concern about the volume of trash generated, or the poisoning of aquifers and food crops. So many bags hung from trees in South Africa that the Minister of the Environment and Tourism jokingly named plastic bags the national flower. Free bags there are now illegal. Paris banned the bags in 2007, and all of France followed in 2010. Other countries with outright bans or free bag bans include Bhutan, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Taiwan and Zanzibar. China's ban on free bags is estimated to save 34 million barrels of oil each year. Ireland saw an immediate 90 percent reduction in plastic bag use after enacting its PlasTax, which saves 400,000 barrels of oil each year. In Germany, most stores charge 5 to 25 cents per bag. Hong Kong proposed a 50-cent tax. Israel adds a surcharge for plastic bags unless they contain meat, fish, poultry or produce. Sweden also taxes bags.
If you think about it, why use a toxic material that lasts forever - never completely breaking down - for an item designed for a single brief use? Less than 1 percent of plastic bags ever get recycled, as manufacturers prefer to begin with raw materials.
For more information, visit the Turning the Tides website, turningthetides.org.
-Turning the Tides, Juneau