SALT LAKE CITY — They don’t seem like much: those thin, plastic bags we use to carry our groceries out into the car and then, without another thought, toss into the garbage. But their impact on the environment, plastic ban supporters like Sen. Jan Iwamoto say, is tremendous.
Each year, 940 million plastic bags end up in Utah’s landfills, according to Iwamoto. Once there, scientists say that it takes up to 1,000 years for them to degrade, and, as they do, they break down into particles that can contaminate the soil and the water.
Iwamoto wants that to change. And, though she’s tried and failed twice already, she’s considering introducing her third bill to ban plastic bans in Utah’s grocery stores.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto’s ban on plastic bags
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, it seems, isn’t the sort of person who takes “no” for an answer.
When she first tried to put through legislation to ban plastic bags in 2017, she wasn’t even given a hearing. And when she tried again the next year, the Senate shot her bill down.
But Iwamoto hasn’t given up. Once more, in 2019, she’s trying to push through what she calls a “refined” version of her last bill. This one, she says, would try to deter shoppers from paper and plastic bags equally by slapping on a 10-cent charge for either one.
“Both are bad for our landfills,” Iwamoto told KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic when she spoke to them about the revised bill. “Paper, I found out, was just as bad because of the amount of water it takes. … And then, when it decomposes, it takes a long time to decompose, too, and then it emits methane gas.”
In 2018, Iwamoto’s bill was shot down primarily over objections that it hindered the free market. George Chapman, who spoke against the bill, told the Senate: “Businesses shouldn’t be told by government how to operate. That’s the bottom line.”
Iwamoto, however, doesn’t agree that this problem can be left up to businesses. “We say the free market will take care of it,” she says, “but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
A lot of the problems we have with plastic bags, she says, are the result of misinformation that the free market isn’t fixing. Most people believe that the whole problem can be fixed by putting plastic bags in the recycling bin, but bags that are recycled at home, Iwamoto says, just end up in the landfill.
“They have to be clean,” she says, and since a bag thrown in a recycling bin isn’t, they all just get thrown out, adding time and expense to the recycling process. “If you put it in your recycling bin, … they have to stop their machines at every stage of the recycling and pull these blasted bags out.”
The only safe way to recycle plastic bags, Iwamoto says, is to drop them off at the grocery store. However, she says that most stores don’t advertise their drop-off areas, leaving most people completely unaware that it’s even an option.
Iwamoto believes that a 10-cent fee for plastic and paper bags would fix the problem. Indeed, some plastic bag bans have had serious impacts; according to Scientific American, a 2002 ban in Ireland reduced plastic bag litter by 95 percent.
Still, if she wants her bill to pass, she will have to convince the legislature to overlook concerns that it represents big government and that it represents, as Chapman called it, a “food tax.”
Iwamoto says that she is going to wait to see the results of recent municipal plastic bag bans in places like Park City and Moab before putting her bill forward.
Still, she believes that she has enough support from the people to put through the bill. She told Dave & Dujanovic: “I get so many e-mails from constituents to do this.”
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