McClatchy Newspapers 
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Single-use plastic bags, a staple of American life, have got to go, the United Nations’ top environmental official said Monday.
Although recycling bags is on the rise in the United States, an estimated 90 billion thin bags a year, most used to handle produce and groceries, go unrecycled. They were the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts at the 2008 International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, a marine environmental group.
“Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme. His office advises U.N. member states on environmental policies.
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Steiner’s declaration accompanied a UNEP report that identifies plastic as the most pervasive form of ocean litter. According to the report, “Plastic, the most prevalent component of marine debris, poses hazards because it persists so long in the ocean, degrading into tinier and tinier bits that can be consumed by the smallest marine life at the base of the food web.”
The ban is already being tested in China, where retailers giving out thin bags can be fined up to $1,464. According to one nationwide survey, 40 billion fewer plastic bags were given out in grocery stores after the law’s enactment. In addition, Ireland managed to cut single-use plastic bag consumption 90 percent by levying a fee on each bag that consumers use.