There may not be an American equivalent for "witches' knickers"--the British phrase that describes plastic grocery bags caught in tree branches--but the flimsy, disposable bags are a growing problem here, and some states and localities are starting to take action.
In March, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., the public entity that collects the state's trash, launched a $250,000 public education program to encourage consumers to tie their discarded plastic bags in knots or to reuse or recycle them. Plastic bag clean-up costs the state $1 million a year.
Other localities are looking at ways to reduce consumer use of disposable bags, which may exceed 40 billion bags a year in the United States. San Francisco is in line to become the first U.S. city to levy a tax on each disposable bag--paper and plastic. The city's environment department approved a plan in January to charge 17 cents per bag, which the agency says will help cover the $8.5 million yearly cost of collecting and disposing of the bags. The city could vote on the surcharge later this year, but Mayor Gavin Newsom says he is undecided about the fee: He is concerned the charge would be regressive and hurt low-income residents.
If the city does take action, it won't be alone. A growing number of nations--Australia, Bangladesh, Italy, South Africa and Ireland, among them--either tax or ban plastic grocery bags. New York City and California have toyed with the idea of bag taxes, and some 30 Alaskan villages have enacted bans.