American Samoa Beats California to Plastic Bag Punch

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U.S. territory American Samoa has officially made it illegal for stores to give out plastic shopping bags. Signed last week by Gov. Togiola Tulafono, the law will go into effect on Feb. 23, 2011.

No more disposable plastic grocery bags for American Samoa, the U.S. territory became the first to outlaw the bags. Photo: Flickr/Keng Susumpow

The passing comes on the heels of California’s recent rejection of Bill AB 1998 (commonly referred to as the Plastic Bag Ban Bill), which would have been the first state-wide plastic bag in the U.S.

The American Samoa law will include disposable plastic bags, but it will exempt shopping bags produced entirely from non-petroleum-based biodegradable plastic and compostable plastic bags, according the Associated Press.

Until now, plastic bag bans and fees have only been enforced on a local level, in many cities across the country. However, American Samoa will be the first U.S. territory to nix the bags.

San Francisco made history in 2007 when it became the first city to ban plastic bags. But with the recent failure of California AB 1998, Los Angeles County and several California cities will attempt to pass bag bans.

Supporters of bag bans favor the removal of the disposable plastic bags because they feel it will ultimately lead to a reduction in overall litter.

“These bags are derived from fossil fuels and are just for temporary use,” said Eric Goldstein, New York City environment director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in March.

“Disposal creates a host of environmental problems […] It’s safe to say that even in a city like New York – which is no environmental paradise – plastic bags are a nuisance; they are one of the most visible forms of pollution. They litter roadways, beaches, parkland, clog our storm drains, hang from our trees and are a threat when they get into our local waterways.”

However, the American Chemistry Council argues that plastic bag bans only result in a different type of litter in the end.

“There has been a shift back to paper bags, which is double the greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically increases waste by about 80 percent,” said Keith Christman, managing director of plastics markets for the ACC.

“One of the reasons people talk about bans is to reduce litter, but this didn’t do anything to reduce litter. And it really didn’t do anything to address this.”

Nevertheless, both sides agree that the best solution is recycling plastic bags. Today, most grocery stores offer on-site plastic bag recycling, and so far, it has proven to be a huge success.

This week, grocery chain Publix announced that, since mid-2007, it has saved 1 billion paper and plastic bags from the landfill. The company has offered in-store recycling of paper and plastic bags since the mid-1970s and introduced its first 99 cent reusable bags in mid-2007. Since the introduction, more than 13 million reusable bags have been sold at Publix locations.

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