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.
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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?→
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.
Most plastic bag bans follow the simple formula of banning plastic grocery bags and placing a fee on paper bags in order to force shoppers to bring and use their own reusable bags. A bag ban is justified because littered plastic grocery bags are unsightly litter that can cause harm to wildlife through ingestion. However, absent from the discussion are three key issues: (1) the magnitude of plastic grocery bag litter; (2) the cost to consumers to comply with a bag ban; and (3) the impact on reducing litter, particularly plastic debris, that finds its way to the ocean and potentially causes harm to wildlife through ingestion.
When these issues are honestly looked at we discover that plastic bag litter is negligible and the cost to consumers is disproportionate to the results achieved. For example, plastic bag litter comprises only 0.6% of roadside litter of which about only half (about 0.3%) is plastic grocery bags. Hence, a plastic bag ban will still leave 99.7% of litter that must be cleaned up through traditional litter abatement methods. The effort to clean up the remaining 99.7% of litter could easily include the other 0.3% (e.g. plastic grocery bags and retail carryout bags) as part of the total effort. In other words, a plastic bag ban is not needed and certainly NOT JUSTIFIED for the small amount of plastic grocery bags littered in the community.
Furthermore, the cost to consumers to eliminate plastic grocery bags from roadside litter averages about 12-cents for each 2-cent plastic bag eliminated by a bag ban. Add to that the cost of plastic bag bans by local and state governments and costs incurred by retailers increasing the total cost far more than the 12-cents cost per plastic bag incurred by consumers! If you compute the annual cost per littered bag, it will be on the order of $250.00 per littered plastic bag per year. Obviously, this is NOT a good deal for consumers! So not only is a plastic bag ban a waste of time and money for the public; it is also a waste of time and money on the part of the environmentalist who promotes bag bans for such a miniscule reduction in litter, when traditional comprehensive litter abatement methods exist that will not only eliminate all plastic bags but also other plastic debris that makes its way to the ocean potentially harming wildlife.
The implementation of plastic bag bans (and paper bag fees) in California has been promoted and pushed by well-organized and well-funded special interest groups working through local politicians, ultimately enacting over 100 local ordinances and subjecting about 33% of the state’s population to bag bans. (White, 2014)
Eventually, after years of failed attempts to pass a statewide bag ban, these organizations were able to leverage local bag bans along with some arm twisting until the California legislature succumbed and passed a statewide bag ban. (Williams & van Leeuwen, 2015) However, when the statewide bag ban was signed into law by Governor Brown, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) successfully challenged the law through a referendum by collecting 809,810 signatures of registered California voters (with 598,684 valid signatures and 93,924 over and above the quantity needed). This means the statewide law will be on hold until it can be approved or rejected by the people of California in the November, 2016 statewide election. (Fight The Plastic Bag Ban, 2015) Continue reading Why California City Councils Must Not Pass Bag Bans with a Statewide Vote Pending→
Bag Banners have long demonized disposable plastic grocery bags by labeling them as “single-use” plastic carryout bags that, they claim, are only used only a few minutes to carry your groceries home. These claims disputed by citizens who understand that plastic grocery bags are not single-use bags but are reused by consumers for a variety of other purposes. While Bag Banners and public officials only half-heartedly acknowledged such reuse, they steadfastly refused to consider the environmental benefits that such reuse creates. The question “Are Plastic Grocery Bags Falsely Labeled as ‘Single-Use’ Bags?” is an important question that will be examined from several perspectives in this paper. In addition, paper grocery bags and also the newly mandated thicker plastic grocery bags will be examined including the terminology used to describe these bags. We intend to expose the blatant falsehood behind labeling a shopping bag as either single-use or reusable.
Plastic T-Shirt Bags (aka Plastic Grocery Bags)
Plastic grocery bags with handles are actually named “Plastic T-shirt Bags” and come in a variety of sizes, colors, and custom printed logos. They are a time saving convenience for both the retailer and the customer and which offers the retailer a marketing opportunity to advertise their business. For customers, they are not only convenient, clean, and safe, but they also serve a multitude of other uses after transporting their purchases home. So how did these safe, clean, convenient and reused plastic “T-shirt bags” get relabeled as “Single-Use Plastic Carryout Bags” in city, county, and state laws?
Dallas, Texas. Faced with a lawsuit claiming that the city did not have authority to tax plastic grocery bags, a lawsuit the city was certain to lose, the Dallas City Council voted 10-4 to repeal the ordinance that placed 5-cent fee on plastic grocery bags. In a companion motion, to ban plastic grocery bags entirely, the City Council voted 9-6 to reject the ban. On Monday, 8 June grocery stores will again be able to issue plastic grocery bags to shoppers for free. (Findell, 2015)
Unlike California, where grocers get to keep 100% of the plastic and paper bag fees; grocers in Dallas only get to keep 10% with 90% of the fee going to the city. The 5-cent plastic bag fee was originally approved by Dallas City Council in March 2014 and went into effect in January, 2015. (Gillett, 2015)
The Dallas plastic grocery bag fee became a hot issue when a group of bag manufacturers and recyclers filed suit against the city. The lawsuit alleged that the 5-cent-per-bag tax passed by the City Council in March 2014 violates the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act. At the time the Dallas Bag Fee was passed, then-State Attorney General Greg Abbott (now Governor Abbott) was looking into whether bag bans or taxes were legal in the state. He concluded that such ordinances were a violation of state law. (Putrich, 2015)
Several of the Dallas City Council members argued that the bag fee was government overreach. Several other council members argued that consumers were beginning to change shopping habits. The presence of the Plastic Bag Monster™ did not persuade council members.
The motion to repeal the 5-cent fee on plastic bags was passed by the City Council, 10-4 with council members Mike Rawlings, Tennell Atkins, Monica Alonzo, Adam Medrano, Vonciel Jones Hill, Rick Callahan, Sheffie Kadane, Jerry Allen, Lee Kleinman, and Jennifer Staubach Gates voting YES to repeal the bag fee. Council members Scott Griggs, Dwaine Caraway, Sandy Greyson, and Philip Kingston voted NO to keep the 5-cent bag fee in place. (Findell, 2015)
The companion motion to ban plastic grocery bags failed to pass the City Council by a vote of 9-6 with council members Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Dwaine Caraway, Lee Kleinman, Philip Kingston, and Carolyn Davis voting YES to ban plastic grocery bags and council members Mike Rawlings, Tennell Atkins, Monica Alonzo, Vonciel Jones Hill, Rick Callahan, Sheffie Kadane, Jerry Allen, Sandy Greyson, and Jennifer Staubach Gates to vote NO to keep plastic grocery bags. (Findell, 2015)
On Monday, 4 May, 2015 the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6 to 1 to finalize the repeal of the two year old ban on plastic bags and the mandatory 10-cent fee on paper bags. The repeal is effective on 3 June, 2015 when stores can again issue plastic carryout bags. (Carpio, 2015)
Council-members Mike Posey, Erik Peterson, Billy O’Connell, Barbara Delgleize, Dave Sullivan, and Jim Katapodis voted to finalize repeal the ordinance and Mayor Jill Hardy voted to keep the ban in place. (van Leeuwen, 2015)
According to Council-member Mike Posey, the plastic bag ban was never an environmental issue, but an issue of personal freedom. (Sharon, 2015)
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.