"Carta o plastica?"

“Carta o plastica?” is Italian for the standard grocery checkout question, which may no longer be needed in Italy. The country has joined the global movement against disposable plastic bag use by imposing a ban on non-biodegradable, single-use plastic bags on January 1, 2011. These non-biodegradable bags may be cheap for grocery stores, but are extremely costly to the environment, building up trash on the streets, contributing to landfill waste, and polluting parks and oceans. Their production also requires petroleum and other vital natural resources.

That’s why Earth Day Network supports the worldwide effort to cut down on non-biodegradable plastic bags, including local community movements as well as policy implementation. Italy alone uses 25% of the disposable plastic bags produced annually in all of the European Union—approximately 20 to 25 billion bags per year. With the ban, they expect to reduce street litter and improve their green record.

You can encourage your leaders to join the roster of governments worldwide which have joined the effort. Australia, Ireland, Bangladesh, Italy, South Africa, mainland China, Taiwan, and Mumbai have either banned plastic bags or taken action to discourage their use. In the U.S., many local governments, starting with San Francisco, have enacted policies to discourage non-biodegradable plastic bags. They include:

• Kaua’i County, Hawaii
• Maui, Hawaii
• Select counties in North Carolina;
• Westport, Connecticut;
• Edmonds, Washington;
• San Jose, California
• Long Beach, California
• Los Angeles, California
• Washington, D.C.

What are alternatives to single-use plastic bags? Some people believe biodegradable plastic bags made from corn, hemp or chicken feathers will put less strain on the environment. But some are not fully biodegradable, and a few critics are concerned over the strength of the bags, arguing that they will bust before getting the groceries home. The best option is probably a multiple-use canvas bag. Most are washable and sturdy, and many grocery stores offer their own versions. We encourage you to pledge to use one on our Billion Acts of Green site. When you bring your own bag and opt out of the question “paper or plastic?”, you are supporting a green-friendly future!