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?→
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)
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.
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)
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.
Officials in many communities across California and the Nation have implemented bans on the distribution of plastic carryout bags at selected retailers including a fee on paper bags. The fee on paper bags is imposed for no other reason than to coerce shoppers to switch to using reusable bags. The reason most often given by these officials is the litter and aesthetic problem posed by plastic carryout bags and the harm caused to marine and terrestrial environments including wildlife.
These officials, have unfortunately, succumbed to political correctness and the self-interest of being seen as “green” and supportive of the environment. However, instead of due diligence to carefully evaluate alternative solutions, officials adopt the same populist prescription implemented by other communities.
Although Bag Ban Proponents are passionate about their zeal to protect the environment, their ideas are generally disconnected from reality and their solutions don’t work and are unrealistic. Nowhere is this more aptly illustrated than in the communities of San Jose and Santa Monica where bag usage surveys reveal that shoppers opt for paper bags or no bags over reusable bags by a ratio of two-to-one. In other words, the majority of shoppers reject using reusable bags.
Because officials do not carefully evaluate the litter impact of plastic carryout bags compared to the impact that a plastic bag ban will have on their citizens, officials have unwittingly traded one problem for another. In other words, the bag ban doesn’t really solve a problem, it only shifts the problem from one area to another. What is worse, a plastic bag litter problem which has no impact in your personal life, now after a bag ban presents a series of challenges, in your face, each and every time you go shopping.
In November of 2012, ten months after implementation of the San Jose Bag Ban, the city issued a report claiming success. The memorandum contained an analysis of litter surveys and claimed a reduction of on-land plastic bag litter of 59%, 60% in creeks, and 89% in storm drains. The latter figure is widely used by bag ban proponents as proof the law works. However, problems with the underlying data as well as the methodology used indicate that these reduction figures are questionable. Other factors such as a cost analysis was never done by the city nor were other less costly alternatives investigated.
In an article “San Jose Bag Ban Report Rebuttal” the authors respond to the claims of success in a stinging rebuttal. The authors claim that the wrong parameter was measured, measurement methodology was unscientific and flawed, bag usage observations were not taken at a broad cross-section of stores, no cost/benefit analysis was conducted, and serious negative impacts were never addressed.
The authors present an analysis of plastic bag litter reduction calculations by the city as well as supply their own. Also presented is a pre ban and post ban cost analysis of carryout bag use showing the cost increase that is incurred by consumers.