The COVID-19 virus pandemic has seen an unprecedented reaction by our government officials in shutting down the economy, stay at home orders, and shortages of essential items at grocery, department and drug stores. One noteworthy change is that stores seeking to protect their employees and customers will no longer accept customer supplied reusable bags and instead recommend the use of store-provided paper or plastic bags all without charging the mandatory 10-cent fee.
San Francisco, the California city where the plastic bag ban got its start, has temporarily banned customer supplied reusable bags for sanitary reasons. Specifically, the city is “not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.”
In addition, Governor Chris Sununu from the state of New Hampshire announced that reusable bags will be temporarily banned during the COVID-19 outbreak and that all retail stores will be required to use single-use paper or plastic bags.
Other states like Maine and New York have postponed implementation of, or enforcement of plastic bag bans until after the pandemic is over.
On 20 September 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1881 “Food Facilities: Single Use Plastic Straws” into law. The law becomes effective on 1 January 2019 and will prevent full-service restaurants from providing a plastic straw unless the customer specifically requests one.
Before we examine the impact of California’s new AB 1881 plastic straw law, let’s take a look at some of the environmental claims made by proponents of the plastic straw laws.
Claims by Environmental Community
The Environmental Community has made a number of outrageous claims about plastic straws:
• 500 million straws used per day In the United States. • Plastic Straws are one of the top 10 items collected in Ocean Cleanups. • Straws are made from natural resources such as oil, natural gas, and coal which cannot be replaced once depleted. • Straws are only used for an average of 20 minutes before being discarded. • Media cites inaccurate statistic on plastic straw weight. • Plastic straws harm the environment and marine wildlife.
500 million straws used per day in the United States?
“How many plastic straws do Americans use every day?” was a question asked by 9-year old Milo Cress. He started a project called “Be Straw Free” and called a handful of straw manufacturers in the United States to get estimates of how many straws are used per day. Through his research he estimated that Americans use about 500 million straws daily. While Cress has received criticism, particularly for his 500 million statistic, the “Be Straw Free” movement started when he was at a restaurant with a friend and noticed other people taking the straws out of their drink without ever using them. He considered this a waste. He talked to the local restaurant and asked them to adopt a policy to “offer first.” It turned out to save money and make people more aware of the plastic they use.
The environmental movement has adopted 9-year old Milo Cress’s estimate of 500 million straws per day. No independent study was conducted to corroborate this estimate. For the environmental community, the bigger the number, even if not correct, the greater the “perceived” negative impact on the environment by the public. While the environmental community and the news media for the most part accept the estimate, there is some confusion and some contrary estimates.
In an article, author Tracey Bailey, claims “Over 500 million straws are used daily worldwide for an average of 20 minutes before being discarded.” [Bold mine] So which is it? 500 million per day in the United States only or is it 500 million per day worldwide?
A foodservice disposables research firm, Technomic, estimated that in 2017 approximately 63 billion straws were used in the United States per year in the food service industry, which includes restaurants, coffee shops, fast food chains, convenience stores, and cafeterias in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. That is about 170-175 million straws per day. If you divide 63 billion straws per year by 365 days, you get 172.6 million per day.
Another market research firm, Freedonia Group, estimated that the nation used about 390 million straws per day or 142 billion straws per year.
The Foodservice Packaging Institute, an 85-year-old trade association, estimates that fewer than 250 million straws are used each day.
Let’s face it, NO one knows how many straws are used in the United States per day or per year. The estimates are all over the place.
To read the entire article, click on the following link:
The San Jose Mercury News recently published an editorial entitled “Success! California’s first-in-the-nation plastic bag ban works”. The editorial claims that because fewer plastic bags were found during this year’s Coastal Clean Up day proves that California’s “grand experiment” with a plastic bag ban is a success. (Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards, 2017)
But is finding fewer littered plastic bags a real measure of the bag ban’s success? If not, how do you really measure the success of the state’s plastic bag ban law? Is success not determined by results and how well each of the law’s objectives are met? The answer is a resounding, Yes!
Success is defined as “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017) Using this definition and assuming a narrowly defined goal to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic grocery bag litter, then the plastic bag ban could be considered “a success”. It could never be otherwise! After all, if you ban or sharply curtail the use of single-use plastic grocery bags there will be fewer available to be littered. Continue reading Is California’s Bag Ban Really a Success?→
Several articles have been recently published suggesting a potential link between California’s Plastic Bag Ban (Proposition 67) and the Hepatitis A outbreak among the homeless populations in California where more than a dozen have died and more than 400 have contracted the disease. The articles are as follows:
While the above articles do not provide conclusive proof of a causal connection between the plastic bag ban and the Hepatitis A outbreak among the homeless in California, the articles do document a link between the once plentiful plastic bags and hygiene and sanitation issues associated with the homeless. Hygiene and sanitation issues also associated with the Hepatitis A outbreak. Rather than summarize the above articles herein; the reader is urged to read the above listed articles instead.
“Plenty of people discounted the plastic-bag theory but San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten was not one of them. “Yes, absolutely, we know people use the bags for that,” she said. “We know people don’t have bathrooms and they can put bags in cans and buckets and maintain good hygiene. That’s why we put plastic bags in the hygiene kits we’re handing out. That’s what we expect people will use them for.” (Graham, 2017)
The above articles demonstrate that California’s bag bans are responsible for exacerbating hygiene issues for those living on the streets or in homeless encampments.
In a previously posted article, entitled “Bacterial and Viral Health Hazards of Reusable Shopping Bags”, the author identifies the health hazards with the use of reusable shopping bags to the public and the homeless. For example, reusable bags must be maintained in a sanitary condition by regular washing or cleaning. Those who live on the streets and in homeless encampments simply do not have the means of washing or cleaning reusable bags. In addition, reusable bags that come into the grocery store from an unsanitary or disease laden environments (e.g. a homeless encampments or a home where there are communicable diseases) poses a public health hazard to shoppers and store clerks. For details read the cited article. (van Leeuwen, 2013)
Have you noticed how many grocery clerks are now donning plastic latex gloves? If you noticed this, then you must ask yourself: Why? Could it be that handling a customer’s reusable bags poses a real health risk to store employees, a health risk not encountered with store provided paper and plastic bags? The answer is obvious.
Bag Bans don’t solve problems, they just exchange one problem for another.
Now that California voters have approved the statewide plastic bag ban; many consumers are now faced with the task of selecting and using an alternative method to transport their purchases home. All of these alternative methods are costlier, time consuming, and more inconvenient than the store provided paper or plastic carryout bags previously supplied through indirect cost.
Bag options available to the shopper are as follows:
Use No Bags. In past surveys, about 42% of shoppers chose this option. Either carrying their groceries in their arms or putting them back in the shopping cart to transport their purchases back to the car.
Use Your Own Plastic Bags. Use those plastic grocery bags you have stashed away and when they are gone, purchase your own plastic T-shirt bags. You can purchase a box of 1000 T-shirt carryout bags for between $10 and $25 either from a local distributor or from an internet store and are available in white or neon colors. Keep a box in each car you own and you will always have bags with you when you shop. Estimated yearly cost is about $45.
Use Store-Provided Paper or Plastic Reusable Bags. This option will cost you a minimum of 10-cents per bag. Estimated yearly cost is about $78. By reusing these bags a few times for shopping, you can cut down your out-of-pocket cost.
Bring and Use Your Own Reusable Bags. A wide variety of reusable bags are available for purchase from cloth to bags made from non-woven polypropylene and similar materials. Estimated yearly cost is between $250 and $300. The estimated cost not only includes your out-of-pocket cost to purchase and replace bags, but also includes the value of your time to manage and wash reusable bags.
Bring and Use Your Own Collapsible Crate. Several types of collapsible crates or baskets are available that can be used to transport your groceries to your home.
On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, California voters voted by a narrow margin to approve Proposition 67, the statewide plastic grocery bag ban. According to the Secretary of State website the vote was as follows:
YES – 7,228,900 votes or 53.3%
NO – 6,340,322votes or 46.7%
Similarly, Proposition 65, a companion measure that would only be effective if Proposition 67 is passed by voters, failed. This measure would require grocers and retailers who are mandated to collect a 10-cent fee for each carryout bag issued at the point of sale, to deposit those moneys into a special fund to support specified environmental projects. (CalRecycle, 2016) According to the Secretary of State website Proposition 65 failed as follows:
NO – 7,276,478 votes or 53.9%
YES – 6,222,547 votes or 46.1%
According to the Cal Recycle website the measure became effective 9 November 2016. Regarding a grace period, the website states: “When Governor Brown signed SB 270 in 2014, the effective dates of the bill’s statutory requirements would have allowed a grace period prior to the onset of the law’s ban on distribution of single-use plastic bags and requirement for stores to charge customers at the point of sale for recycled paper bags and reusable grocery bags. However, when the referendum qualified for the November 2016 ballot, implementation of SB 270 was suspended. Proposition 67 passed and the law is in effect as originally written.” (CalRecycle, 2016) This means shoppers should expect to be charged 10-cents for each store provided paper or plastic reusable bag next time they shop. To avoid those fees, simply bring your own bags of any type or do not use carryout bags at all. Continue reading California Voters Approve Statewide Bag Ban→
Proposition 67 is a Referendum on the California Statewide Ban (Senate Bill 270) on single-use plastic bags. A “YES” vote would uphold the law and a “NO” vote would overturn it.
Fight The Plastic Bag Ban recommends a NO vote on this proposition.
Proposition 65 is an initiative statute that would redirects money collected by grocery and other retail stores through sale of carry-out bags and require those funds to be deposited into a special fund administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board to support specific environmental projects. If voters pass Proposition 67 to uphold the state’s current carryout bag law, Proposition 65 would require that bag fees collected from shoppers be redirected to the state and used for grants for certain environmental and natural resources purposes.
Fight The Plastic Bag Ban recommends a YES vote on this proposition.
This website posts many articles available for download (click on Documents menu) including the following article entitled “10 Reasons Small Businesses Should Oppose Bag Bans”. This article discusses some reasons why businesses, particularly small businesses, should oppose bans on plastic carryout bags.
Plastic bag bans attempt to change people’s behavior and lifestyle by using an economic incentive to coerce (force) people into bringing and using their own reusable bags. If bringing and using your own reusable bags was such a good idea, the public would have readily adopted the solution. But pre-bag ban surveys show that only about 10% of shoppers voluntarily brought and used their own reusable bags with the majority choosing to use store provided paper and plastic carryout bags. Even after a bag ban, about two-thirds of shoppers’ reject bringing and using their own reusable bags and either chose to use no bags or chose to purchase store provided paper and reusable plastic bags. Even though the store-provided paper and reusable plastic bags purchased by customers have the word “Reusable” printed on them in large type, shoppers treat these bags as disposable bags!
In view of the above, when you consider that people act in their own self-interest and adopt solutions that work best for them, then you must conclude that plastic bag bans are a colossal failure and the wrong solution to a perceived litter problem with lightweight plastic carryout bags! The right solution would be to just use paper bags or make the plastic bags from a thicker plastic film to prevent them from so easily becoming windblown litter. In fact, in areas where the thicker reusable plastic bag has been used, there is a corresponding decrease in windblown plastic bag litter. A result that could have been achieved without trying to change shopper behavior through coercive and tyrannical means.
Chicago’s Plastic Bag Ban is truly a unique ordinance. While the ordinance contains features found in many other bag bans across the nation, some features such as a mandatory minimum fee for store provided paper and plastic reusable bags is not included. The ordinance can therefore be said to be customer friendly.
The ordinance was passed by the City Council in 2014 and took effect on 1 August 2015 for stores with a floor area 10,000 square feet or more and 1 August 2016 for stores less than 10,000 square feet. The ban is applicable to chain stores “that sell perishable or non-perishable goods, including, but not limited to clothing, food, and personal items” where “chain store” is defined as “three or more stores having common ownership or any store, regardless of ownership, that is part of a franchise”. The ordinance is not applicable to dine in or take out restaurants or any store that is not defined as a “chain” store. (City of Chicago, 2014)
Because the bag ban exempts any store that is not a chain store, as defined in the ordinance, one could conclude that the ordinance is also small business friendly. For example, a neighborhood mom & pop grocery store or a fabric store could continue providing their customers with thin-film plastic carryout bags.
Stores subject to the bag ban ordinance must “provide reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or commercially compostable plastic bags, or any combination thereof, to customers for the purpose of enabling the customer to carry away goods from the point of sale”. (City of Chicago, 2014)
The bag ban does not specifically impose a bag fee nor prohibits stores from imposing a fee for store-provided paper and reusable bags.
According to the article “Six months in, Chicago’s plastic bag ban a mixed bag” by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, some stores are charging a 10-cent fee for store provided bags but most of the large grocers are giving away thicker plastic bags in place of the flimsy “T-Shirt” carryout bags. (Elejalde-Ruiz, 2016)
In a commentary published in the Chicago Tribune titled “Chicago’s misguided plastic bag ban” the author Erik Telford makes the statement that the bag ban is a “poorly designed policy gone awry” and that “the city took a half-hearted approach to regulating plastic bag use”. The author also points out that bag ban advocates want the city to add a mandatory minimum fee for store provided paper and reusable bags and one of the city’s aldermen even wants to increase the thickness of plastic reusable bags so that stores have no choice but to charge customers for them. In addition, the author’s summary paragraph says it all: “Chicago’s ill-conceived plastic bag ban is the latest reminder of the dangers inherent in big government programs. New regulations almost always have unforeseen consequences. Advocating for behavior change through force of law can easily end up leaving a city worse off than it was before.” (Telford, 2016)
In 2014, the California State Legislature passed a ban on single-use plastic bags which was signed into law by Governor Brown. Subsequently, the new law was challenged through the referendum process by the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA). The APBA collected signatures on petitions and a sufficient number of signatures were collected to put the law (SB-270) on the ballot for voter approval/disapproval.
If the law is upheld, the use of single-use plastic carryout bags would be prohibited and most but not all customers would be forced to pay 10-cents for each paper or plastic reusable bag distributed at the point of sale.
If the law is upheld, the law would create two classes of shoppers. One class of shoppers would have to pay the 10-cents bag fee for each store-provided paper or plastic reusable bag; the other class of shoppers would be exempt and receive store-provided bags at no cost. Customers who pay 10-cents each for store provided bags would subsidize the cost of providing bags to customer who are exempt from the bag fee. The customers who are exempt from the bag fee are those customers who participate in public assistance programs, such as food stamps.
Whatever happened to treating all customers equally?
The 10-cent bag fee is not subject to sales tax and the entire amount collected is kept by store providing a huge windfall to grocers. It should be noted that the law died in the California State Assembly, until the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Safeway struck a deal regarding the 10-cent bag fee.
It should be noted, that voting NO on this proposition will not repeal local bag bans. However, if voters reject the statewide bag ban, it will provide impetus to opponents of local bag bans and greatly assist in repealing them.
Proposition 65 is an initiative statute that would redirects money collected by grocery and other retail stores through sale of carry-out bags and require those funds to be deposited into a special fund administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board to support specific environmental projects. If voters pass Proposition 67 to uphold the state’s current carryout bag law, Proposition 65 would require that bag fees collected from shoppers be redirected to the state. Revenues are expected to exceed tens of millions of dollars annually. Revenues would be used for grants for certain environmental and natural resources purposes. If voters reject the state’s current carryout bag law, there would likely be minor fiscal effects.
A plastic bag ban does not produce any significant environmental benefits in proportion to the cost and effort expended by shoppers. In the article “Bag Bans – A Waste of Time and Money!” the author argues and demonstrates that bag bans are large on cost with negligible environmental benefits. Proposition 65 if passed would deny a financial windfall to grocers and instead put that money towards real projects that benefit the environment.