Bag It!

Omnipresent Plastic Bags Under Attack

By Published on .

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Worldwatch Institute, Society of the Plastics Industry.
Plastic shopping bags made their debut at American supermarkets 30 years ago, but their anniversary is causing more global alarm than celebration.

In March, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban petroleum-based plastic bags. Legislators argued the bags usually ended up littering waterways and endangering wildlife. Already two other California cities, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, plus Phoenix, Portland, Ore., and Boston are considering similar measures, which have been implemented in places such as Ireland, Canada and Australia. Biodegradable plastic bags and paper bags will be allowed under San Francisco's law.

Ikea is moving in the same direction. After giving away 70 million plastic bags in the U.S. last year, the Swedish retailer announced in March that it would start charging 5¢ for each bag, giving proceeds to conservation group American Forest. It also dropped the price for its mesh reusable bags.

Two of this year's eco-marketers, Timberland and Ben & Jerry's, are already onto this trend: For instance Ben & Jerry's only uses nonbleached, high-percentage recycled paper bags in its scoop shops. Meanwhile, Timberland says in its U.S. specialty stores the company will donate 10¢ to the Conservation Fund for every disposable bag customers choose not to take with their purchases. Timberland stores in the U.S. will offer a reusable, recycled tote bag for $5.50, with the customer receiving 10% off each subsequent purchase.

At, site founder Vincent Cobb says sales are three times higher than in 2006. Recycling plastic bags is just a Band-Aid, Mr. Cobb says. "Things like Ikea is doing are far more progressive. Retailers share a responsibility, especially as they risk being called litterbugs if their brand-name bags land in trees.

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