You hear it over and over again, “plastic bags do not decompose and will last a thousand years in a landfill” and “they will be here long after I am gone!” A Google web search will show hundreds of articles with the same theme and in all cases the writers attempt to convey how bad this is and why we should ban plastic carryout bags. Look at what some say:
Plastic bags are not biodegradable … and end up in landfills where they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water. (West)
A plastic carrier bag will take up to 1000 years to break down once it is in the landfill. Compare that to its useful life which can be measured in minutes – the length of time it takes to get our shopping home from the store before being dumped in the dustbin. (Green)
Plastic bags also have a hard time decomposing; estimates range from ten to twenty years when exposed to air to 500–1,000 years in a landfill. (Cadman)
But what do these writers NOT tell you? They don’t tell you that the raw materials, oil and natural gas, from whose byproducts plastic carryout bags are made, were in the ground for thousands if not millions of years. So all that we are doing is putting back into the ground what we extracted from it in the first place, but we put it back in a different and more stable form.
The main reason policy makers give for banning plastic carryout bags is because of the litter impact of these bags upon the environment. Yet, plastic bags comprise at most a miniscule 0.6% of roadside litter; Whereas, Fast Food litter comprises 29.1% of roadside litter. Despite the litter impact of plastic carryout bags, plastic bags produce fewer greenhouse gases than paper or cotton bags. Plastic bags require 70% less energy to manufacture than paper bags. Plastic bags take less than 4% of the water needed to manufacture paper bags. Plastic bags generate up to 80% less waste than paper bags. It takes 7 trucks to deliver paper bags and only 1 truck for the same number of plastic bags. Furthermore, it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than a pound of paper.
To justify banning plastic grocery bags in favor of paper or reusable bags with their higher environmental footprints, bag ban proponents rely on reusing a bag multiple times in order for its overall environmental impact to be less than a plastic carryout bag on a per use basis. The concept expressed in Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) is that because there would be fewer reusable bags in circulation and since each bag is used multiple times that an environmental advantage is achieved over the use of plastic carryout bags. However, there are some flaws in this concept.
The Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance has a detrimental impact on landfills that has not been clearly identified. While the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) identifies that plastic carryout bags currently end up in the landfill, unbeknownst to proponents of the ordinance is that the amount of material deposited in the landfill after the ban has been implemented is far greater than before the ban. Landfill impacts for both the State of California and for Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties are presented in Tables 1 and 2 respectively. While landfills can absorb the additional material with no problem, an unintended consequence of the single-use carryout bag ordinance, it is California’s Zero Waste Goal that suffers a setback that will have to be made up through other waste reductions!
To read more click on the following link: California Landfills Impacted By Bag Bans. This article is an update of the article previously released and titled “Fact Sheet – Landfill Impacts” originally released 16 April 2013. The new article includes the California statewide impacts in addition to the impacts to Santa Barbara and Ventura County landfills.
At the 15 October 2013 Santa Barbara County Supervisors board meeting, the Santa Barbara County Public works Department, Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division (RRWMD) requested Supervisors to receive and endorse the draft Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance for the unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County and to direct staff to initiate review of the Ordinance pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In addition, Supervisors were requested to designate the County Public Works Department, Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division as the Lead Agency under the CEQA. Supervisors approved the request by a vote of 3 to 2. Continue reading Santa Barbara County Supervisors Not Well Served→
Bag Ban Proponents like to point out that the recycling rate for plastic carryout bags is 5% or less and that because of the low recycling rate, plastic carryout bags should be banned.
Bag Ban Proponents totally miss the point. When plastic carryout bags are reused as trash bags, waste can liners, to pick up pet litter, dispose of kitchen grease, dispose of dirty diapers, or the myriad of other uses and end up in the landfill filled with trash, they cannot be recycled. Bag Ban Proponents appear to have a particularly difficult time comprehending this simple fact. Continue reading Plastic Bag Recycling Rate – A Non-Issue→
The movement to ban plastic carryout bags is growing as more and more California communities enact single-use bag ordinances. These ordinances are very similar to one another and go beyond banning plastic carryout bags to implementing a very specific solution. This solution attempts to change the shopping paradigm where shoppers supply their own reusable bags rather than receive store supplied disposable bags to carry their purchases. To ensure that consumer behavior is changed, retailers are required by the local ordinance to charge a minimum fee for each paper bag issued.
By implementing a specific solution, mandated by the government, innovation is stifled and businesses are no longer free to pursue alternative solutions that are in their best interests. Government officials and their staffs simply do not have the expertise and time to investigate alternative solutions to solve the underlying problem or have the motivation to improve retailer customer service, therefore the government mandated solution locks an inadequate and antiquated solution into place. Furthermore, freedom of choice on both the part of retailers and consumers is unnecessarily sacrificed, restricted, and infringed.
As more and more communities pass ordinances to ban plastic carryout bags, a key question remains: Are these bag bans successful? Proponents of bag bans are quick to point out that once the bags are banned, fewer plastic bags will be found as litter in the environment. Of course, that is true. If the use of plastic carryout bags is sharply reduced by a bag ban then the quantity of plastic carryout bags found as litter will be similarly reduced and reflected in litter surveys. But does that single measurement signify the success of the ban? Or are there other factors that must be considered before a bag ban can be declared a success? In this paper we will look at this question and attempt to provide a reasonable answer.
On 1 October 2013 the Santa Barbara City Council voted to deny the appeal by Save The Plastic Bag Coalition (STPB) and to go ahead with the Plastic Bag Ban. The issue will come to the council for a second reading of the ordinance in two weeks.
On August 8, 2013 the Santa Barbara Planning Commission voted 6 to 1 to certify the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a City of Santa Barbara Addendum without notifying interested parties in a timely manner. As a result interested parties, such as myself and STPB, were not able to attend the public meeting to answer questions or to present a case why the EIR is flawed and should be rewritten. After finding out about the action, STPB filed an appeal which was heard at the 1 October 2013 City Council meeting.
Bag Bans are the wrong solution to control litter from plastic grocery bags. Many communities are driven to ban these bags because they are a very visible form of litter. But is banning these bags the right solution? I don’t think so, and neither should you!
Plastic bags of all kinds make up only about 0.6% of litter. So a ban on plastic grocery bags would at most eliminate no more than 0.6% of litter. The other 99.4% is still out there waiting to be cleaned up!
All carryout bags have a negative environmental impact. Paper bags and reusable bags have a higher negative environmental impact and larger carbon footprint than plastic bags. In fact, 10 out of 14 environmental indicators go up after a bag ban is implemented, meaning a bag ban is a bad idea from an environmental perspective.
The majority of reusable bags currently in use in California are made from non-woven Polypropylene (PP) or fabrics such as cotton. While PP is technically recyclable, currently there is no recycling infrastructure for PP bags in the state of California. Furthermore, although cotton bags are technically compostable, there is no composting facility currently available. Hence, both PP and cotton reusable bags must be disposed of in the trash or landfill.
A very small percentage (much less than 5%) of reusable bags are made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) or Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE). These bags are recyclable via the In-Store Recycling Bin at your local retail store.
Environmentalists like to say that the recycling rate for plastic grocery bags is only 5% and therefore they should be banned. But the recycling rate for reusable bags is closer to 0%. Should they not be banned?