From Australia to the U.K., and all across the U.S., politicians and corporations are pondering banning or taxing plastic bags.

A hefty surcharge that began in 2003 in Ireland has spurred the public there to spurn plastic bags almost completely in favor of reusable cloth totes.

Plastic sacks are also taxed in Italy and Belgium. Grocery shoppers must pay for the bags in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. Spain, Norway, and now the U.K. are considering a ban or tax as well.

The political action in the U.K. on single-use plastic bags follows similar gestures earlier this year in Australia.

There a national ban or tax is being hotly debated, though the state of South Australia, which includes the city of Adelaide, has promised a ban on free single-use bags by year's end no matter what.

The state's premier, Mike Rann, listed familiar reasons for the ban: The bags contribute to greenhouse gases, clog up landfills, litter streets and streams, and kill wildlife.

Banished Bags

Unsightly pollution appears to be behind China's January announcement of a countrywide ban on the thinnest totes and a tax on others. It begins June 1, two months before the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Taiwan taxes the bags, and the cities of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Mumbai, India, ban them to prevent flood-inducing storm-drain clogs during monsoon season.

Once jokingly called the "national flower," thin plastic bags have been banned in South Africa since 2003; thicker ones are taxed. Similar measures exist in Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

In the U.S., the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California, ban the bags and promote reusable and compostable sacks. Elsewhere in the state supermarkets are required to take back and recycle the bags.

Similar take-back and recycle initiatives are on the books or under consideration in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

<p>A whale shark swims beside a plastic bag in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen. Although <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/facts/whale-shark">whale sharks</a> are the biggest fish in the sea, they're still threatened by ingesting small bits of plastic.</p>

A whale shark swims beside a plastic bag in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen. Although whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea, they're still threatened by ingesting small bits of plastic.

Photograph by Thomas P. Peschak, Nat Geo Image Collection

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