Litter from fast food waste makes up 29.4% of roadside litter. Should we ban fast food takeout? Now, before you answer, plasticgrocery bags make up less than 0.6% of all roadside litter and cities all over California are banning plastic grocery bags! The good news is that fast food takeout is not being banned, but it begs the question “Why are plastic grocery bags singled out when their contribution to litter is miniscule?”
In fact, officials who vote for plastic bag bans cannot even point to a plastic bag litter problem in their own community! Let alone a problem of sufficient magnitude that would justify a ban. Litter surveys are rarely ever conducted and when they are, they are conducted in a haphazard manner leading to questionable results. Decisions to implement bag bans are usually based on anecdotal evidence, questionable at best, offered by environmental groups such as showing pictures of a few plastic bags littered around town, in the river bed, and pictures of a turtle chewing on a plastic bag.
Everything that man uses is littered. Ever see a discarded candy wrapper, a paper bag, a milk carton, a mattress, a sofa, or a tire on the side of the road? Life would be tough if we ban everything that is littered, including plastic grocery bags. Despite the lack of evidence that plastic bag litter is a significant problem, let’s assume it is and look at more cost effective and appropriate methods of dealing with that litter, methods that would be beneficial to the community.
On 1 October, 2013 the Lake Tahoe City Council voted 3-2 to ban “single-use” plastic bags distributed at the check stand for customers to carry purchases home. Councilmembers Hal Cole, Angela Swanson, and Brooke Laine voted for the ban and Mayor Tom Davis and councilmember JoAnn Conner voted against the ban. What makes this plastic carryout bag ban ordinance different from others is that is does not mandate a fee for paper bags; does not require retail stores to keep records and report to the city on the number of paper bags distributed and fees collected; and does not implement an enforcement mechanism by the city. The council decided that it is up to the retailer to decide if he wants to charge a fee for paper bags or recover the cost of paper bags through higher retail prices.
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 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.
Bag Bans are one of the latest Eco-Fads being pushed by the “green” movement and virtually all “environmental” groups as a solution to the plastic bag litter problem. These groups put enormous pressure on city officials to implement a plastic bag ban and paper bag fees on their citizens. These groups attempt to link virtually every environmental problem to the simple plastic grocery bag, defying logic and misleading government officials, the media, and the public by continuously repeating a series of lies, distortions, and half-truths that do not hold up under scientific scrutiny.
There is a saying that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. This is often the strategy of the bag ban proponents. And the internet has afforded thousands of people eager to ban bags the ability to repeat the same lies and distortions over and over until people just accept them as fact.
In this article we examine a majority of the most often quoted and repeated lies and distortions related to plastic bags and bag bans.
The article Do Californian’s Really Use 20 Billion Plastic Bags Per Year? has been updated. The text was clarified in a number of areas, including the insertion of equations showing how to perform calculations, as well as footnotes to fully document all of the sources of information. We still maintain that the 20 billion Plastic Carryout Bag number is erroneous and the true number of plastic bags used is closer to 9 to 10 billion per year.
The article provides some useful information about reusable bag sizes, volume, and average weight when filled. Consumers should educate themselves about bag sizes and weights when filled, to avoid wasting money by buying bags that are too large and heavy when filled by store employees.
With more and more communities in California and the nation adopting plastic carryout bag bans ergonomic safety issues related to using reusable bags have been largely ignored. The chief selling point often touted by proponents is that “Reusable bags hold more than plastic bags”. What is often overlooked is that “If reusable bags hold more, they weigh more.” This means that handling of heavier reusable bags by both store employees and customers alike, present ergonomic safety hazards that should be taken into consideration.
David Spady from Americans For Prosperity – California created a video titled “Common Sense” where he discusses the outrageous hypocrisy of those who push plastic bags bans on communities in California. You can watch the video yourself by clicking on the following link:
In an article titled “Store owners say plastic bag ban causes more shoplifting“ author Casey McNerthey (Seattle PI, 28 February 2013) reports that Seattle store owners have reported thousands of dollars in merchandise losses. The losses are blamed on thieves with reusable bags who are harder to track and monitor. The highest losses reported occurred in stores in low income areas with many homeless and transients.