Billions of pounds of plastic trash could be eliminated from the world’s waste stream if the United States ended the use of throw away grocery sacks.

But that doesn’t mean that Portland should start taxing the bags, as one national nonprofit recommends.

The Surfrider Foundation rightly points out that every year the United States is responsible for 24 billion pounds of plastic packaging, which finds its way into our landfills, along our roadsides and into waterways.

That volume could be greatly reduced if Americans changed the way they bring home their groceries from the store, but charging a tax on customers is not the way to achieve that goal.

For starters, Portland is too small a slice of the waste-producing world to have enough of an impact on the problem. Singling out Portland shoppers will more likely make them angry than significantly reduce the waste stream.

And collecting the tax would put a burden on Portland businesses that neighbors in South Portland, Westbrook, Falmouth and points beyond do not have. Perhaps other towns would use Portland as an example and levy their own tax, but more likely merchants in those towns would use the competitive advantage handed to them and continue to offer free bags.

That would give customers an incentive to leave Portland and shop elsewhere, hardly what the city wants. People who couldn’t afford to drive across the municipal boundary or buy a cloth grocery bag would be left paying the taxes.

A better solution would be encouraging people to change their behavior, best done by educating them about the consequences of wasteful use of grocery bags and providing alternatives.

These could include discount reusable bags and an incentive to use them, as well as making recycling of disposable bags easier.

What will be required is a cultural change that will likely happen over time. An onerous tax in a few cities isn’t the best way to achieve it.

The city should put this idea aside and look for better ways to reach the same goal.