The Center for Biological Diversity reports that the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags per year. Single-use disposable bags are used on average for only 12 minutes, and only 1% of them are returned to stores for recycling. Target alone gives away enough single-use plastic bags annually to wrap around the earth seven times.
A growing number of cities, states and foreign countries are acting to ban or tax single-use plastic bags in order to reduce pollution – especially water pollution. California was the first US state to enact a statewide ban, and that ban was confirmed in a November 2016 ballot referendum.
In Washington, DC, the Department of Energy and Environment determined that single-use plastic bags were one of the major sources of pollution in the Anacostia River. In 2010, a 5-cent bag tax was introduced to encourage consumers to reduce their use of disposable plastic or paper bags, with proceeds going to fund clean-up efforts. Bag usage in the district dropped from about 22 million per month to 3 million in the first month the fee was in effect, according to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.
Non-partisan studies have shown that bag bans do help to reduce energy use, waste and litter. Yet, three states (Arizona, Idaho, Missouri) have enacted legislation to prevent municipalities from enacting plastic bag bans or taxes. Of course, by shopping with reusable bags, individual consumers can modify their own behavior to reduce the problem of plastic waste, irrespective of local regulations.