Thinking Green, The Bag Fee and Foreign Policy

I see this in Target all the time. Shoppers start by picking up a drink at the in store Starbucks and upon check out, these shoppers do this strange juggling act of trying to carry all their items and not pay 10 cents for a bag. This is  hilarious, because, oh yes, pay $5.45 for a coffee drink and not pay cents for a bag? Just something to think about.

This seems to make little sense monetarily. But what about the environmental impact? The intent behind charging 10 cents per bag is to reduce the number of plastic bags which have a harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and the wildlife. Yippee, we’re helping the environment. What about the cups? Those single use coffee cups. The plastic lining that makes leak proof makes the cups non recyclable, so they are hand sorted out of recycling leaving 4 billion single use coffee cups going to landfill yearly.

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But wait there is more; more what we think is being recycled that is going to land fill.  Much of the US recycling, is sent to China, or was. Effective March 1, 2018, China has banned imported waste worldwide causing a global upheaval. From the New York Times:

China’s ban covers imports of 24 kinds of solid waste, including unsorted paper and the low-grade polyethylene terephthalate used in plastic bottles, as part of a broad cleanup effort and a campaign against “yang laji,” or “foreign garbage.” It also sets new limits on the levels of impurities in other recyclables.

China had been processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste paper, metals and used plastic — 7.3 million tons in 2016, according to recent industry data. Last July, China notified the World Trade Organization that it intended to ban some imports of trash, saying the action was needed to protect the environment and improve public health.

In the short-term, this means what we intend for recycle will end up in landfills. The US isn’t equipped to process everything collected. What started off as just a question, why not pay 10 cent for the bag has ended with the harsh reality.  All that “feel good” I’m recycling is most likely going to end up as land fill. What are we going to do with this information? I don’t know; just like what’s going to happen to all the collected recyclable that China won’t take? It is involved and complex. We’re facing a problem without a solution, starting with, most of us, are not aware there is a problem. Just something to think about.


  1. Great article! Its quite scary when you begin to look into the impacts of products and realise how unsustainable they are. These kinds of issues really drive home the point of how under-informed the public are on what we are consuming. Most people are aware of coffee cups. But, plastic is snuck into many products. Many face washes, for example, contain millions of micro-plastic pieces that enter marine systems through our drainage. All the more reason, writing about these issues is of vital importance 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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