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Alison Kelly

Professor Ben Henderson

An End in Sight for Plastic Bags at Penn State
They collect in the vacant spaces of your house. They seem harmless at first,
but then their numbers begin to multiply, seeming to spontaneously regenerate due
to the sheer quantity that has amassed. They get used once before being tossed
with their brothers in those no longer empty spaces of the house. And yet, when
asked if we want a bag at the end of the checkout line, we still insist upon feeding
these plastic bag monsters that creep around our homes and dorm rooms. On
average, the American family collects 60 bags in only four visits to the grocery store
(Plastic Bag Consumption). The intent for the plastic bag is generally to be used
only once. Many people try to be resourceful with their bags by saving them until
needed for putting a wet bathing suit in ones bag or for storing ones muddy shoes,
but these bags end up eventually in the same place: the landfill.
Plastic is an interesting substance because each molecule of plastic that is
created takes thousands of years to degrade (Plastic Paradise). So when we create
plastic, it stays here for a very long time. Plastic continues to be created in mass
quantities every day. Eventually the amount of plastic will begin to build up if we
continue consuming it at the rate that we are. Plastic is not a bad thing in and of
itself. When it is used for more permanent objects, plastic makes sense as a choice
because it can be created somewhat cheaply, and it will be longer lasting. However,
for what are intended one time uses, like plastic bags from grocery stores, a
permanent substance like plastic is not the best and most sustainable choice.
Plastic is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource (Plastic Paradise). Using

a substance that is not able to replenish itself is not going to be a good choice for
manufacturing temporary use items, since the average plastic grocery bag is used
for twelve minutes (Plastic Bag Consumption).
Another problem with the plastic bag is that they are hard to recycle,
therefore not recycled often. Only an insignificant one in 200 bags is recycled
(Plastic Bag Consumption) out of the 500 billion to one trillion that are used each
year (Cemansky). The rest are sent to landfills with the rest of the garbage,
although many bags end up littering the ocean. This presents a huge problem for
the sea creatures who are unable to tell the difference between a piece of plastic
and a piece of food and end up consuming the bags. Recently, a pilot whale about
three meters long was found beached on Penang Island with over four kilograms of
plastic found in his stomach, including 21 plastic bags, 11 plastic sheets, a
detergent container, and, rather ironically, 6 meters of Caution tape. The plastic is
believed to be what caused the animals death, and, unfortunately, he is not alone
(Sokial). Every year, more than one million sea creatures including sea birds,
whales, seals, dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks are killed because of getting stuck
on or consuming plastic bags (Plastic Bag Usage). The bags themselves are not just
the problem. Many bags have some sort of design or lettering painted on them,
which has proven in some instances to be toxic. When left to melt off the bag in a
steaming landfill or to leach into the sea, there could be negative consequences
Only recently have plastic bags become prevalent in society. The first use was
in 1957 when plastic sandwich bags were introduced. In the 1970s, department
stores began to use plastic shopping bags, but it wasnt until the 1980s that plastic
bags were introduced into supermarkets, and the age old question of paper or

plastic? was born (Plastic Bag Usage). The infestation is not just subject to areas
where supermarkets are commonly found on every block or where landfills develop.
Africa has such a big problem with windblown bags that people started to use them
to weave various items like bags and hats (Plastic Bag Consumption). But we cant
weave all of the plastic bags into the world into fashion items because they just are
not durable enough. There should be a significant decrease in the use of plastic
bags. That is why I propose that there be a fee put in place across the Penn State
campus for every plastic bag that is used.
This policy will be active for all convenience stores, restaurants, and
businesses across the campus including the restaurants in the HUB-Robeson Center
and the convenience stores located in the commons of each dormitory location.
Most people use these areas to buy several items or less, and they may walk out of
the store with a water bottle in a plastic bag. The plastic bags will still be provided
at the aforementioned locations, but the consumers will have to pay a 25 cent fee
for each bag used. The fee will not be charged without the consumers permission.
A vendor will only use the plastic bags with the customer if the customer asks for
one, in which case the vendor would warn the customer of the fee. If the customer
is still in need of a bag after being warned of the fee, they will then be charged the
extra 25 cents. For big purchases, the customer will most likely need to use bags,
and in comparison to the cost of goods, the fee may not seem like much, so they
may go ahead and purchase the plastic bags. The idea is to not get rid of the bags,
although that would be a bonus. The intent is to cut back on the amount of bags
that are used, particularly for smaller purchases. In comparison to the price paid for
just a few items, the customer will think more about the necessity of the plastic bag
and if it is worth the expense. 25 cents is a reasonable choice for a fee because it is

a high enough expenditure that people will hopefully not just overlook it, but it is
also not too high. 25 cents is a landmark amount of money. People will collect
quarters or stop to pick one up, but they may not necessarily give much thought to
a smaller coin. It will be thought of not just as 25 cents, but as a quarter, which has
a slight different connotation, due to its physical representation, than just 25 cents.
Some may be concerned that they buy a lot of groceries at these locations,
and it is necessary for them to use the bags, but they cannot afford paying this fee
for each bag every time they make their purchases. As part of the policy, there will
also be reusable bags at the cashier stations for patrons to buy for one dollar a
piece. This means that a customer would have to make four purchases where they
would use bags in order for their purchase of the reusable bag to even out, which is
not very many. The reusable bags also tend to be a little larger, so less of them
would be needed as opposed to plastic bags. The policy is not to try to make
grocery shopping unpleasant or stressful, but it may make customers who are used
to plastic bags a little uncomfortable at first. Hopefully, after the initial anger or
annoyance, the consumer will think about why this system is put in place.
Eventually, not using bags will become the naturalized state. We havent always
been reliant upon plastic bags, and we can revert back to a state where they are not
the norm.
The Penn State campus is the ideal place to start with a bag ban. Most of the
people who use the businesses around the campus are students who are young and
still getting used to their own independence. Hitting students with this lifestyle
change will still be a discomfort for some at first, but ultimately students will
become accustomed to the shift, and it is easier to change habits when people are
younger. Faculty and staff members also spend time shopping at these locations,

and this is not to say that they are unable to make the change. The plan will seem
like an inconvenience at the start, but eventually, the consumers will adapt and
become used to the new system, remembering to bring their reusable bags when
they go to the store, if necessary. Penn State is already a University that has shown
its commitment to sustainability. They have adopted the Mobius trash system,
meaning that they try to be a zero waste campus (Recycling & Waste Management).
This shift could also potentially branch out as habits are changed. Students, staff,
and faculty who shop at these campus locations will get used to the system and
possibly begin to use reusable bags at other non-campus located retailers.
There are many countries that have adopted plastic bag policies and even
some locations in the US. After imposing a plastic bag tax throughout the country,
Ireland reduced their plastic bag consumption by 90%, which is over one billion
bags that were saved. There are also taxes in fellow European Union member
nations, Italy and Belgium. In Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, there are not
taxes imposed, but they do have fees for plastic bags, similar to the plan that is
proposed for Penn State (Cemansky). Some countries have taken more extreme
measures to ensure that plastic bags are not used. Several cities in England, in
India, and in Australia have imposed bans against plastic bags. Mexico City, one of
the more populated regions of Mexico, also instated a ban. Bangladesh has had a
plastic bag ban since 2002, after discovering that the bags were to blame for
several serious floods in 1988 and 1998 (Cemansky). Rwanda, ranked as one of the
cleanest nations in the world, also has imposed a plastic bag ban and has had it in
place for some time. Not all of these bans have been so successful, however.
Taiwan instated a ban in 2003 which lasted for three years before the country got
rid of the ban in 2006 (Cemansky).

San Francisco was the first city in the United States to create a bag ban,
which started in 2007 (Plastic Bag Usage). The entire state of California recently
followed suit, making California the first state in the United States to have a bag
ban. The ban seems to be taking rather well. Customers are saying that it takes
getting used to, but it really isnt too big of a deal (Huffman). Customers are now
asked Do you have your bags with you today? instead of Paper or plastic? When
a customer forgets their bags, they do have paper bags and more endurable plastic
ones for customers to use, but these come at a cost of 10 cents per bag, which is an
encouragement to remember to bring ones bags (Huffman).
Of all the things to change on the Penn State campus, a 25 cent fee for each
plastic bag does not seem like such a life-changing pursuit, but in a way it could be
just in a positive way. Plastic bags are a relatively insignificant part of ones life, and
they are easily replaceable. Their reduced use is worth the hardship that customers
may have to bear initially when getting used to the policy, but it is a much lighter
burden than the one that we would endure because of the environmental impact
that plastic bags produce. They seem so innocent, light and airy, but these small
and weightless bags are menaces to ocean life, the environment, and subsequently
human beings. Plastic bags are not going to go away. They carry too significant a
role in society, and by plastics nature, they just do not decompose quickly. The
plastic monsters taking up space in our homes will have much longer lives than any
human could ever hope to live. This policy will help to change peoples shopping
habits in order to create a more sustainable and less crowded future planet.
Works Cited
Cemansky, Rachel. "How Many Cities Have a Ban on Plastic Bags?" How Stuff Works.
InfoSpace LLC., 10 Jan. 2012.

Huffman, Jennifer. "Shoppers Adapt to Plastic Bag Ban." Napa Valley Register. Napa
Valley Register, 28 Mar. 2015. Web.
"Plastics." US Environmental Protection Agency. USE PA, Web.
"Plastic Bag Consumption Facts." Conserving Now. Web.
"Plastic Bag Usage USA vs. World." Reuse This Bag. BBB, Web.
Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Dir. Angela Sun. 2013. DVD.
"Questions About Your Community: Shopping Bags: Paper or Plastic Or...?" USEPA.
US Environmental Protection Agency, Web.
"Recycling & Waste Management." Sustainability. Pennsylvania State University,
Web. <>.
Sokial, Sandra. "Pilot Whale Killed by over 4 Kg of Plastic Items It Mistook for Food."
The Rakyat Post [Kota Kinabalu] 27 Mar. 2015:
Stern, Irena C. "Greening Up By Cutting Down on Plastic Bags." The New York Times.
New York Times Co., 5 Aug. 2007. Web.
Williamson, L.J. "It's Not My Bag, Baby." On Earth. NRDC, Summer 2003. Web.