in Houston, Texas
El Paso considers ban on plastic bags, which make up less than 1 percent of national waste stream
Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012, 02:28PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Banning plastic bags. Everyone’s doing it, from Austin to San Fransciso to Delhi.

El Paso thinks it might want to join in and why not? It’s cooler than telling people Sherman Hemsley lived there or getting your own Triple A baseball team.

The El Paso City Council on Tuesday asked city staff to explore an ordinance to ban plastic grocery bags or to assess a fee for their use, the El Paso Times reports.

The council then took a vote to assure the public it would continue to support the city’s plastic bag recycling program, for which the council was responsible.

Should a bag ban pass, the council will be able to go to bed at night (early and without a nightcap) knowing it stood up courageously against less than 1 percent of the city’s total waste stream.

While El Paso hasn’t studied it, and votes in cities like Austin suggest the facts don’t much matter, plastic bags accounted for 0.6 percent of the litter in the most comprehensive national study done to this point, by Keep America Beautiful.

When the California Integrated Waste Management Board studied the state’s overall waste stream, it found plastic grocery bags made up 0.3 percent or half the national average. (Please see Table ES-3 on page six of the study for the breakdown.)

There has been precisely no movement to ban the sale of tobacco products, whose packaging and butts make up more than a third of the litter, perhaps because federal and state governments profit so handsomely from their taxation.

There are no popular uprisings against paper, which makes up more than 20 percent of our litter, or plastic containers and packaging at nearly 20 percent. Metal, glass, organic waste, construction and motor vehicle debris, even waste with no category are bigger litter problems than plastic grocery bags.

Coalitions will inevitably form when the technology to produce reusable hemp soda bottles, cigarette filters and fast food clamshells with clever environmental slogans on them catches up.

It’s much easier to punish grocers and their customers. And besides, the folks in Austin, San Francisco and Delhi will think El Paso is cool.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of plastic bags by flickr user Heal the Bay, used via a Creative Commons license.

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