U.N. Official Calls for Worldwide Ban on Plastic Bags

Paper or plastic? Soon, you may not hear that question anymore.

A top U.N. official on Monday called for a worldwide ban on single-use "thin" plastic shopping bags, the kind you get at the grocery store.

"Single-use plastic bags which choke marine life should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, according to McClatchy Newspapers. "There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them any more, anywhere."

Steiner's words accompanied the release of a U.N. report entitled "Marine Litter: A Global Challenge," which finds that plastic is the most pervasive form of pollution in the oceans.

"Plastic, the most prevalent component of marine debris, poses hazards because it persists so long in the ocean, degrading into tinier and tinier bits that can be consumed by the smallest marine life at the base of the food web," reads the report.

But the plastic-bag industry says that its bags aren't the problem — it's the people who throw them out.

"Recycling is what we see as the best approach for the U.S.," Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council told McClatchy. "Plastic is just too valuable to waste."

The EPA actually finds that plastic bags are preferable to paper ones in landfills, because paper degrades too quickly and takes up more room.

Nonetheless, countries and cities around the world are starting to ban or tax single-use plastic bags. Ireland makes customers pay extra for each one; San Francisco has banned them outright, and Los Angeles will do so next year.

• Click here to read more of this story from McClatchy Newspapers.

• Click here to view the U.N. report 'Marine Litter: A Global Problem.'