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:
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→
On October 21, 2015, the Oceanside City Council voted 3-2 against moving ahead with a proposed plastic bag ban. Councilmen Jack Feller and Jerry Kern and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez opposed the agenda item and Mayor Jim Wood and Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery voted in favor. (Sifuentes, Council trashes plastic bag ban proposal, 2015)
The agenda item, if it had passed, would have directed city staff and the Utilities Commission to prepare a Single-Use Carryout Bag ordinance from the sample Single-Use Carryout Bag ordinance contained in Appendix Q of the Oceanside Zero Waste Strategic Resource Management Plan, seek public input, and submit a proposed ordinance with recommendations to the council.
Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery put the proposed bag ban ordinance on the agenda, citing that plastic carryout bags are polluting local waterways and beaches. (Sifuentes, 2015)
On April 13, 2015 Arizona’s Governor Ducey signed Senate Bill 1241 that would prohibit cities, towns, and counties from passing ordinances that ban or tax the use of plastic shopping bags, Styrofoam and other containers. (Gardiner, 2015) (Rau, 2015)
The bill’s author, Rep. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, cited concerns that plastic bag bans and similar regulations raise costs and create a regulatory nightmare for businesses. He stated that he is concerned about economic freedom and that he supports the right of individuals to make their own decisions. (Gardiner, 2015)
The problem with clogging recycling machinery is real, but what bag banners do not tell you, is that banning plastic grocery (or carryout) bags will not prevent all jams of sorting machinery at recycling facilities or expensive breakdowns. The sorting equipment at these facilities are being jammed not only by plastic carryout bags, but by all sorts of plastic bags (newspaper bags, produce bags, frozen food bags) and plastic wrap (wrap from toilet paper, bottled beverages, bottled water, packaged products), and from all sorts of materials (blankets, hoses, ropes or other strapping materials) which are all responsible for jamming sorting machinery. (Terry, 2007)
Educating the public that plastic bags and wraps and other prohibited materials may not be put in the curbside recycling bin would be a much better solution to the problem. Furthermore, the public needs to be educated about bringing unused and clean plastic bags and wraps to the retail stores’ In-Store Recycling Bin for recycling vice the curbside recycle bin.
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.
On February 24, 2015 the California Secretary of State, Mr. Alex Padilla, certified that the referendum to Overturn California’s Statewide Ban on Plastic Grocery Bags qualified for the 2016 ballot and will be decided by voters. The irony of ironies is that the California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who as legislator had championed the plastic bag ban, had to certify that sufficient valid signature were collected by referendum proponents to put it on the ballot! A total of 809,810 signatures were submitted by referendum proponents and county registrars projected that 598,684 signatures were valid based upon random sampling. A total of 504,760 valid signatures were needed with 93,924 signatures over and above the quantity needed.
Although, more than 100 jurisdictions within the state have implemented bag bans, they were implemented largely by nanny-state politicians, who thought it more important to be politically correct and be seen as “green” than doing the right thing. In fact, in every jurisdiction that has a plastic bag ban in the state of California, the bag ban was implemented by local politicians, rather than by a vote of the people. The referendum will finally give ordinary citizens the chance to vote up or down on the statewide bag ban.
It should be stated that plastic grocery bag litter is an insignificant litter problem that can easily be handled by more traditional litter abatement methods than by imposing draconian bag bans. In the article “San Jose Discovers Bag Ban Does Not Solve Litter Problems” we show that San Jose’s bag ban was useless in terms of reducing overall litter and in an upcoming article, we will show that San Jose’s own litter surveys show that plastic grocery bag litter to be an insignificant problem.
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.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) announced that it has turned in more than 800,000 signatures to county registrars. The APBA needed only about 505,000 signatures to qualify the referendum. If county registrars certify that the required numbers of signatures were collected, the law would be put on hold until the 2016 general election where voters will have the opportunity to vote on the issue. (Associated Press, 2014)