The City of San Jose, to their credit, is one of the few cities that conducted litter surveys both before and after the city’s bag ban. Results showing the percentage reduction of single-use plastic carryout bags (i.e. plastic grocery bags) as a component of litter have been cited by the city as proof that the city’s bag ban is effective. Likewise, environmental groups nationwide have touted these same results as a justification for promoting new bag bans and opposing repeal efforts. Unfortunately, the City of San Jose did not conduct litter surveys in a controlled and scientific manner, did not correctly analyze survey data, and did not put survey results into proper perspective. As a result, the data collected is unreliable for computing a meaningful figure of merit, such as the percent reduction in plastic carryout bag litter resulting from the city’s plastic bag ban.
Yet, despite these shortcomings, the litter surveys did reveal several surprising facts that have escaped the notice of city officials, the media, and those in other cities who cite San Jose’s claims:
That only half of ALL plastic bag litter found in sampled areas on city streets and creeks consists of single-use plastic carryout bags; hence, a bag ban would at most eliminate only about half of all plastic bag litter.
That only about 10% of litter in creeks consists of single-use plastic carryout bags; hence, a bag ban affects at most 10% of ALL litter in creeks, leaving the remaining 90% unresolved. Therefore, all of the cost and cleanup efforts still need to be implemented since this will not meet the 100% reduction goal required under the federal Clean Water Act.
That the number of single-use plastic carryout bags found during all of the litter surveys in 2009, 2010, and 2011 (prior to the bag ban) average only 1,000 bags per year, or less than 1 for every 1,000 people, or the equivalent of what two (2) people out of a population of more than 1 million would use annually!
The use of unreliable and questionable survey data to project large percentage reductions of an insignificant number of littered plastic grocery bags combined with a complete lack of evidence of any cost savings to the city or to the people show that the bag ban was never justified from the beginning, and that the ongoing cost burden to San Jose families is likewise unjustified.
Ten months after the City of San Jose implemented their Plastic Bag Ban, Kerrie Romanov, Director of Environmental Services for the City of San Jose, issued a memorandum dated November 20, 2012 to the San Jose City Council claiming success of the “Plastic Bag Ban” (San Jose ordinance #28877). Romanov claimed this success based upon a 59% reduction in plastic bag litter on city streets and neighborhoods, a 60% reduction in plastic bag litter in creeks, and an 89% reduction of plastic bag litter in storm drains.
On 20 January, 2015 the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6 to 1 to start the process of repealing the city’s plastic bag ban. Councilmembers Mike Posey, Erik Peterson, Billy O’Connell, Barbara Delgleize, Dave Sullivan, and Jim Katapodis voted to repeal the ordinance and Mayor Jill Hardy voted to keep the ban.
The agenda item that was voted on instructs the city manager to begin the repeal process including preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which is estimated to cost $5,000. The EIR is expected to take between two and three months to complete, and when completed, the issue will go back to council for final approval.
As previously noted in the blog article titled “San Jose Painfully Learns Litter Problems Were Not Solved by Plastic Bag Ban!”, the City of San Jose is painfully discovering that it’s much touted plastic bag ban that cost residents millions of dollars did virtually nothing to solve the city’s serious litter problems. According to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), one of the stated reasons for implementing the bag ban was to reduce litter on city streets, in creeks, and in storm drains. (City of San Jose, 2010) Two years after the plastic bag ban was implemented, that there has been no reduction of overall litter. Furthermore, the case is made, using San Jose’s own litter surveys and claims of bag ban success, to show that the plastic bag ban was never needed but was a very expensive mistake.
Although the exact number of single-use paper and plastic carryout bags used in the city is unknown, the city estimates that 68 million paper bags and 500 million single-use plastic carryout bags are used every year. In fact the Draft EIR identifies that 1.4 plastic bags are used per day by every living person in the City of San Jose which equates to 511 plastic carryout bags per person per year. (City of San Jose, 2010) This means that a family of four would use 4 x 511 or 2044 plastic bags per year.
In a November 20, 2012 memorandum to the San Jose City Council from Kerrie Romanov (Director of Environmental Services for San Jose) the following statement was made:
Statewide and local bag bans were a SCAM from the very beginning. These measures can best be characterized by deceitful scheming, repeated lies and distortions, backroom deals, a supportive one-sided media, and enough politicians succumbing to political correctness to force this law and the resulting shopping behavior changes on the people of California.
Not only were Californians deprived of more reasonable and acceptable solutions to address plastic bag litter by the shenanigans of bag banners but will also pay an additional $1 Billion per year just to take their groceries home. And after spending all that money, litter will hardly be affected at all! More than 99.6% of litter will still be there waiting to be picked up.
These measures were passed by progressive politicians, and even though the measures affect every one of their constituents, both financially and through the expenditure of personal time, none were allowed to vote for it. In fact, to date, no member of the public has ever been given the chance to vote for or against these measures!
The paper “The California Plastic Bag Ban Scam” examines and exposes the methods used by the bag banners to push bag bans at the local and state level, and how they were able to push through a law that is not only unpopular, but also sets new dangerous precedents in governmental power and law.
Some people welcome a ban on plastic carryout bags, others are opposed, and others are not sure. This article is intended for those of you who are in between and unsure whether you should oppose or support a bag ban.
With as much that goes on in the world today that vies for our attention, getting excited about plastic grocery bags (i.e. plastic carryout bags) is certainly not high on the totem pole. We live in a topsy–turvy world where things that were once banned are allowed (e.g. marijuana) and things that were once allowed are now banned (e.g. plastic carryout bags).
So how can we approach this subject in a fair and impartial manner? How can we determine if we should support or oppose a bag ban? We know that when the legislature or a local jurisdiction passes a law they are trying to solve a perceived problem. So the answer to the question is to understand the nature of the problem and how the proposed solution or law intends to solve that problem and most important what alternative solutions were considered. The more clearly we understand this the better we can see how our personal freedom and liberties are affected and whether that intrusion is warranted and justified.
The purpose of this paper is not to provide a detailed explanation of the problem and the solution (e.g. plastic bag ban) but a philosophical argument about why or why not bag bans should be opposed.