Columbus could soon join the growing list of cities, states and countries banning non-biodegradable, single-use plastic bags. A citizens’ initiative is now underway and gathering signatures to present to Columbus City Council along with a petition requesting a ban in Columbus.

While arguments continue over many environmental issues, the science is clear on plastic bags: landfill management declares them one of their biggest problems, they are a visual blight, and they threaten wildlife and marine life and pollute soil and water systems. A plastic “island” larger than Texas, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is growing at an exponential rate. Worse, the “island” is really a column of plastic reaching deep into the ocean, creating a dead zone where there is no oxygen, no plankton, no fish, no life possible. During International Coastal Cleanup Day in 2009, plastic bag debris was second only to cigarette butts/filters (21%) in number and accounted for full 11% of ALL marine debris picked up! To get to these coastal areas, vast numbers of plastic bags “travel” through field and stream, rivers and lakes and sewer systems throughout the world—and right here in Columbus and central Ohio.

The facts about plastic bags speak for themselves:

More than one trillion bags are used every year worldwide. More than a billion bags are used in the United States. If everyone in the United States tied their annual consumption of plastic bags together in a giant chain, the chain would reach around the Earth's equator 776 times!

Only 1%-5% of plastic bags are recycled. (estimates vary)

At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris including seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish. The scale of contamination of the marine environment by plastic debris is vast. It is found floating in all the world’s oceans, everywhere from the polar region to the equator.

Huge numbers of wildlife, birds in particular, are killed every year due to ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic bags.

Plastic bags are a petroleum based product, adding more demand on the need for oil.

Plastic bags photo-degrade at a very slow rate (more than 100 years) and never break down if not exposed to sunlight. When and as they do break down, the tiny polymers enter and poison soil and water systems, and thus, the human food chain.

Organizers of the initiative say the ban would compliment Mayor Michael Coleman’s green initiatives in Columbus and could pave the way for other cities and perhaps the state of Ohio to get rid of plastic bags. There are lots of alternatives to the bags; most grocery stores now sell inexpensive reusable bags, and most households have cotton or hemp bags that are more durable than plastic bags and can be washed and reused again and again.

Signatures are needed to move the petition forward to City Council, as many as 7000 signatures, in fact. But proponents of the measure believe they can accomplish that goal in the next few months. More information about the dangers of plastic bags may be obtained by going to Ban Plastic Bags in Columbus on Facebook. Volunteers are needed to help collect signatures. Contact Email to get involved.