The San Fransicso "Save the Bay" group has waged war on plastic bags in a campaign called "The Bay vs. The Bag," while some feel it's a fight not worth fighting.
Save the Bay argues that...
"Plastic bags pollute our waters, smother wetlands and entangle and kill animals. In fact, approximately one million plastic bags pollute San Francisco Bay each year. Trash Bay flows into the ocean to join the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a floating island of trash estimated at twice the size of Texas where plastic particles are more abundant than plankton."
Save the Bay has been fighting to keep the Bay clean since 1961. In their latest campaign they fighting for legislation to put a tax on single use bags and even ban their use across the state. Amidst growing recognition of the evils of disposable plastic bags more and more places are banning their use all together.
Not everyone shares their passion for the issue however. Guardian columnist, George Monibot, wrote last week in his column "plastic bags are not the scourge of the planet, their biggest evil is to distract us from more pressing causes." He was not referring specifically to the SF Bay campaign but the amount of attention in general that is paid to fighting plastic bags.
He sites that I'm Not A Plastic Bag campaign, by Anya Hindmarch as an example for how trendy and expensive reusable bags are sold for profit and do little for the environment other than to unduly ease enviro-guilt until the bags are cast aside for the next hot eco-trend. This is an accurate observation, but it's a mischaracterization of cause in general, which is not represented by the luxury resuable bag sellers. His argument is that while plastic bags are bad, they are a minor issue that takes the spotlight away from more important issues because of ignorance and laziness.
I have to agree with Monibot that the "Anti-Plastic Bag" campaigns tend to garner a lot of support because they are low hanging fruits. There is no powerful bag lobby and it's relatively easy for consumers to make the change, and profitable for retailers to sell reusable bags. I, however, don't see a problem with picking low hanging fruit.
The environmental challenges we face can be quite daunting at times. There are a myriad of complex issues with no clear solutions, and then there are some with very clear and attainable solutions, like replacing disposable bags with reusable bags. To make substantive progress we need to engender a broad swath of support for environmentalism. We need to fight the tough battles, but it doesn't hurt to take a couple easy wins. It's good for moral, and good for recruitment.
We do need to be careful not to placate our environmentalism with narrow easy wins, but we can't be elitists that scoff at legitimate causes because they are "too small."
Keep fighting Bay!