Each April, millions of Americans celebrate Earth Day by participating in volunteer conservation projects across the country. Earth Day serves as an opportunity for individuals to chip in to reduce pollution, recognizing the importance of preserving our land, water, and natural habitats for future generations.
There are many ways to make small daily contributions to protecting the environment. From recycling to taking public transportation, Earth Day does not need to be a once-a-year commitment.
This year on Earth Day, I introduced legislation to encourage the use of reusable grocery bags. The “Trash Reduction Act”, H.R. 1628, would impose a five cent fee on “single-use” carryout bags from stores and put the revenue into projects that preserve our environment.
Currently, less than 15 percent of all plastic bags are recycled. While this is an improvement over past years, tossing out 85 percent of plastic bags, most of them used just once, is wasteful and even harmful behavior. Research has shown that when plastic bags break down over the course of many years, they can emit harmful toxins into our air, water, and land.
We have seen bag taxes work locally in Ireland, San Francisco and Washington D.C., the time has come to take the policy national in the U.S.
The U.S. International Trade Commission reported in 2009 that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the U.S.
Much of the non-renewable oil and natural gas required to manufacture those 102 billion plastic bags comes from foreign countries, a number of whom are not our allies. While an increase in reusable bag usage would not have a large impact on reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, it’s a highly visible, easy to do, step in the right direction that all Americans can participate in.
Four cents of the five-cent fee collected from each single-use bag would be put toward conservation programs within the Land and Water Conservation Fund which works to make our rivers, streams and wildlife areas cleaner and more pristine. The bill also provides a tax credit for businesses that establish bag recycling programs. The Trash Reduction Act offers a simple way for individuals to make environmentally-friendly choices while rewarding businesses that maintain an eye toward the future.
Cleaning up our environment is a public health issue, and reducing the number of plastic bags that end up in our rivers, trees, and on the side of the road is an important step in protecting our planet for future generations.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.