should shopping bags be paid for

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When I was growing up, there were discarded plastic paper bags all over the place; on the sidewalks, alongside the road in the countryside, in the drainage system, on traffic lights, walls, bushes, riverbanks, and streams; plastic paper bags were simply a part of our climate. Despite the fact that plastic bags were covering the soil, more and more plastic bags were being made, used, and discarded into the ocean. For several years, most countries have followed this pattern.

Plastic bags are a big polluter in the ecosystem. They include big toxic compounds that can affect the atmosphere by water, soil, and air pollution. First and for most, they cause unsightly sceneries. When they end up in our drainage systems they cause blockage and this could result in floods during the rainy season. One of the major ways people get rid of plastic bags is by burning them; you will agree with me this is what happens in most of the households especially in the countryside where they do not have garbage pickup trucks. Burning the bags in open air pollutes the environment. Plastics release poisonous chemicals that when they mix with the air, they affect the respiratory system of humans and animals that inhale the air.

Although not all plastics create ozone layer destroying chemicals when burnt, it does not help because people do not know the difference between them and those that contain vinyl chloride which when burned release hydrocarbons which when broken down by the ultraviolet (UV) light lease chlorine which acts as a catalyst to breaking of the ozone. The ozone layer absorbs UV rays to protect the earth from direct radiation. Depletion of this layer has several consequences on the environment and the organisms living within it. UV rays are a cause of many types of skin cancer and eye problems it also causes global warming.

The plastic papers ban has attracted mixed reactions from people in different countries. A decade ago San Francisco's effort to impose the ban on plastic bags had been met by an opposing grocery community. However, they finally shifted towards the support of the concept when other cities like Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Jose and Palo Alto passed similar measures. California being the first state to carry out a ban on carry-out plastic papers at grocery stores in the USA nation has been successful as the opposing plastic bag industry conceded defeat after the environmental groups had a tremendous win on the bill.

In Canada, shoppers have been paying five cents for plastic bags in stores since 2007 in stores like Walmart, despite mixed results from shoppers; it has been a great success. However, this has not been the case in Atlantic Canada. Some stores tried introducing the same concept in Atlantic Canada but it was not well received. The client base being of much older people in Atlantic Canada and the fact that most stores were not doing the same, most stores scrapped the concept. Some stores do not offer plastic papers as an option at all, instead, they offer Green Bags for Life at 99 cents, and customers can exchange their bags after they are worn out with new ones for free.

In Rwanda, the plastic bag ban has been extremely successful. In my opinion, Rwanda is a perfect example which all countries all over the world should learn from. During my visit in Rwanda right from when I arrived at Kigali International Airport, there are several signs that warn any visitors that their plastic wrappings will be confiscated. Since 2008 all business in Rwanda were forced to change from plastic bags to paper ones. You will agree with me that Rwanda is the envy of the neighbouring African countries. Compared to Uganda, Rwanda has no mountains of rubbish stuck all over the place, no floating plastic bags on tree branches. As if the ban on plastic paper bags is not enough, Rwanda is actually looking to be the first plastic- free nation in the world by banning other types of plastics. It takes a bold move to ban plastic bags use and I'd say, in Rwanda, it did pay off.

Having been brought up in China, I have a memory of what China used to be like before the plastic bag ban. In my memory, in China, many people did not know how to cherish plastic bags before the government implemented this policy. I always saw abandoned plastic bags on the streets or in the trash can when I was a little girl. It was havoc, there were heaps of land filled with plastic bags waste and it was proving really hard to recycle them as recycling is also expensive than producing new ones.

Five years ago in China, the rule which bans the manufacture of thin plastic bags, prohibits stores, grocery shops and any other shops from giving free plastic bags. They were however required to impose a charge on the customers for the bags. Five years down the line China is celebrating a drop of use of plastic bags by two-thirds. The ban has also cut plastic bags

consumption by 67 billion bags which is an equivalent of saving 6 million tonnes of oil.

I think the United States has already fallen behind Europe, Asia, and Africa for several years. Most US States have been going back and forth about the plastic ban issue. The idea has not been welcomed with most people claiming that more than half a million people in the USA depend on the plastic bags industry for their livelihood. Customers are also arguing out that if the will have to pay for the plastic bags then the store should reduce the cost of their items since the bags' cost is usually tucked in the items.

There have been mixed reactions on this new rule not forgetting strong oppositions from the plastic paper manufacturers. Three years ago some countries like Florida had a law that actually banned cities from banning the use of plastic bags. Really sad. However, most of the states even Texas where the largest paper manufacturers are based, are embracing the ‘pay for shopping bags' concept. Washington, D.C., was the first city in the USA to pass the ‘pay for shopping bags' law. Most shoppers now bring their reusable shopping bags. The money generated from the sale of shopping bags have been directed partly to the cost of implementation and partly to the cleanup of Anacostica River. I am very happy for the U.S.A. to embrace this decision now because it's never too late to protect our world.

Plastic bags are a common household use all over the world; they are cheap, convenient and easy to carry around. However, their effect on the environment is menacing. First, they take millions of years to completely degrade, especially now that the world is using and throwing more than a trillion bags annually, then within a few years, the land will be covered with hundreds of mountains of land pits. The future generations will have no idea what it means to have a clean environment.

Plastic bag charges should be imposed in all countries in all stores across the board. I personally think this is the best idea and the closest America has ever come to promoting and conserving the environment. However this does not mean we should stop here, there is much more to be done, America should consider phasing out the use of plastic bags for shopping and so should other countries, just like Rwanda.

America has taken a very broad step in passing the law ‘pay for shopping bags'. Just like other countries where the law has been passed, America will realise the environmental and economic benefits of this law as there will be reduced manufacture, use and dumping of plastic bags. This is just the beginning to a cleaner environment and sustainable development.

October 25, 2022
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