Litter isn't just unsightly, it's a costly environmental hazard. And plastic bags, due to their longevity and susceptibility to being carried by the wind, are a prime component.

Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags a year for grocery shopping alone and only about 1 percent to 2 percent of those bags are recycled, even though most stores participate in recycling programs.

Producing those bags requires about 5 million barrels of oil. And once the bags are in the environment, they can cause havoc, especially for fish and wildlife. Animals, especially marine mammals, often mistake the bags for food and die when the plastic interferes with their digestive systems.

The bags and other forms of discarded plastic pose an environmental problem just about everywhere. According to the United Nations, there are thousands of pieces of plastic, on average, in every square mile of ocean.

Around the world, a variety of efforts are used to diminish plastic bag use. They are banned in much of Europe and other places heavily tax their use to discourage it. Ireland, for example, has a 21 cents-per-bag tax. In the United States, San Francisco has banned plastic bags to help protect its invaluable waterfront; Seattle has adopted a 10 cents-per-bag tax, and Washington, D.C. has established a nickel-per-bag tax.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat, has introduced a bill calling for a 2 cents-per-bag tax on plastic bags applying to retailers with more than $1 million a year in gross sales. One penny would go back to retailers to fund their own recycling efforts and the other penny would go to the state government's recycling fund.

Retailers have been hesitant about the proposal because they don't want to impose extraneous costs on customers. But the real purpose of the bill is to raise awareness of the hazards posed by plastic litter, discourage use of plastic bags and encourage recycling. Ultimately, retailers could save millions of dollars a year if most of their customers switched to reusable bags.

The Legislature should approve the bill. Its proposed tax is not oppressive and it could produce far more benefits than its cost.