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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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.
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.
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.
At the 5 August 2013 Ventura City Council Meeting, Council Member Brian Brennan and Council Member Carl E. Morehouse introduced a Request for Policy Consideration for preparation of a Draft Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance. The Request for Policy Consideration was approved by the full city council with no opposition.
The Request for Policy Consideration would direct the staff to develop a draft Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance, determine how the ordinance would be enforced, provide a budget to modify the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and return to the City Council in early Fall to consider these items and a timeline for next steps.
At the council meeting, Council Member Brian Brennan introduced the policy consideration and provided a brief history of the development of the BEACON EIR. He then stated that BEACON EIR would be used to create a project that would consist of a single-use Carryout Bag Ordinance and that the city council would have to certify the BEACON EIR.
Council Member Brennan then brought up a viewgraph presentation from two years earlier where a trash study was done for the Ventura River. This was part of the Total Maximum Daily Load Program under the federal Clean Water Act. He proceeded to point out on the some of the slides the amount of plastic including plastic bags that come from storm drains discharges into the Ventura River. He went on to state that there are more than 1300 storm drain inlets in the city and that plastic bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, paper, biodegradable material, glass, bottle caps, and more come out the storm drains and into the river.
What Council Member Brennan neglected to make clear to the council and audience, is that in the last two years the city of Ventura has spent more than $300K to install more than 200 trash excluders in storm drain catch basins to prevent the trash mentioned in the paragraph above from being discharged into the Ventura River. In addition, the project is still unfinished and that 50 more trash excluders for the Ventura River need to be budgeted for, procured and installed (according to an inside source).
Council Member Carl E. Morehouse spoke next and stated that he wants to see a reduction in litter to make our city look beautiful. Council Member Morehouse then presented several slides showing plastic bags in his neighborhood when walking down from Loma Vista to Telegraph on Day Road and opposite Foothill Technology School. He stated that he knew that the source of this litter was from the flea market held on the Ventura College parking lot.
Most cities with single-use carryout bag ordinances provide an exception for farmers markets and flea markets and charitable organizations. Hence the plastic bag litter shown in the photos from councilmember Morehouse would more than likely not be affected by a plastic bag ban.
Council Member Morehouse also said that the aim of the ordinance is to go after the big distributors of plastic bags. He said that he wants to take the plastic carryout bag out of the waste stream to make our community look better. His goal is to get a handle on the trash and make Ventura a clean city that will attract tourism.
Council Member Brennan then stated that Ventura will not be the first to use the BEACON EIR. The City of Santa Barbara is first with Santa Barbara County following shortly thereafter. City attorney Ariel Calonne mentioned that Santa Barbara has prepared a 9 to 10 page supplemental document to the BEACON EIR.
Council Member Brennan then mentioned outreach programs at the schools, community events such as street fairs, and at stores giving away reusable bags. The City Manager, Mark Watkins, also mentioned that implementation would include outreach to businesses, street faire, passing out bags with the city logo, all the things you do when rolling out a new program. Council Member Brennan also stated that 97% of plastic bags could be eliminated by a bag ban based upon what the storm water professionals working for the city have said.
Council Member Christy Weir then asked if the ban would apply to the really big plastic bags that you would put a bedspread in, to which the reply from Council Member Brennan was No, it only applied to HDPE bags. She then received assurances from other council members that it be clear in the ordinance.
The question that Council Member Weir asked is a very pertinent question. Most city ordinances ban all plastic carryout bags regardless of the type of plastic from which they are made and regardless of the size of the bag. Plastic carryout bags made from plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick are allowed. The thicker, stronger plastic bags – those more than 2.25 mils thick – have special uses for which paper is not a good option or not readily available; for example, very large bags for bedding and other bulky household items (Seattle Public Utilities Commission – FAQs – Bag Ban for Retailers)
There were a total of 16 speakers, 12 speakers for the plastic bag ban and 4 against.
Many of the speakers were from the Surfrider Foundation including one young lady who donned the Bag Monster costume and provided some comic relief and entertainment for the council and the public in attendance. The Bag Monster costume consists of hundreds of plastic carryout bag. The idea for the costume was invented by Andy Keller from ChicoBag, a manufacturer of reusable bags, as a spoof to show how single-use plastic bags are such a bad idea. The spoof is wildly popular with proponents of bag bans.
Speakers for the plastic bag ban cited plastic bag litter and harm to marine wildlife including sea turtles as the main reason why plastic bags should be banned. Some of the speakers for the ban are as follows:
Bob Davidson, a 38-year Ventura Resident stated that the ordinance is not a plastic bag ban but should be retitled as a “Reusable Bag Ordinance” since shoppers could always bring their own plastic carryout bags.
Bill Hickman, the Rise Above Plastics Coordinator for Surfrider Foundation spoke in favor of the ordinance to ban plastic bags and showed a short video consisting of still pictures of littered plastic bags photographed in different locations throughout the city. Mr. Hickman also mentioned that the city should implement the ban and get not only the storm water credits but a beautiful city. He too stated that the ordinance should be renamed the Reusable Bag Ordinance. He mentioned the goal is to target the high volume distributors but would love the boutique shops and restaurants to participate.
Speakers against the ban included the following:
Brian Lee Rencher stated that he too is opposed to the ordinance and that plastic bags are handy thing to have and that he carries them with him wherever he goes, and proceeded to pull out a bunch from a pants pocket. He stated he prefers to live as George Jetson instead of Fred Flintstone and said that the plastic bag ban knocks him back to days of Fred Flintstone. He also stated he would purchase his own plastic carryout bags and use them.
Carla Bonney, a longtime resident of Ventura, and a past Council Candidate also spoke in opposition to the policy consideration. Carla said that she likes using plastic bags and throws them away only after using them multiple times. Carla also reminded the council that trash excluders had been installed in storm drain catch basins to prevent trash from entering the river. She also mentioned that people living in the River Bottom are a major source of trash including plastic bags.
According to an article published in the Ventura County Reporter on September 27, 2012 titled “The Ventura River bottom Diaspora” where more than 47 individuals were escorted from 20 illegal camps in the Ventura River bottom, one hundred tons of trash and debris were removed for a total of more than 300 tons of trash removed from the river bottom in 2012.
Anthony van Leeuwen, a 36-year resident of Ventura, spoke in opposition to the policy consideration. He stated that he too shares the concern of litter. He said that since plastic bags comprise less than 1% or roadside litter, that the litter problem will not be solved by banning a single item. Furthermore, the litter problem need to be solved by traditional methods, including education, but education won’t solve the entire problem, you have to do the hard work of picking up the litter. In addition, he said that since 30% of the 658 million plastic bags will be replaced by paper bags, per the BEACON EIR, and that since each paper bags has the environmental impact of 4 plastic carryout bags, the 30% paper bags becomes equivalent to an environmental impact of 120% of the plastic bags that when added to the environmental impact of reusable bags means that the environmental impact due to carryout bags after the bag ban is much higher than the environmental impact of the status quo.
After all public speakers finished speaking, Council Member Weir asked if the money that grocery stores collect for paper bags could come back to the city to fund litter cleanup programs and could that be looked into. She recognized that this would be a tax subject to a vote.
Deputy Mayor Cheryl Heitmann asked if the paper bag fee is negotiable. She concluded it was and suggested that grocery stores must be benefiting from it in some way since they are supportive of the measure. She also liked the idea expressed by Council Member Weir that a portion of the fee could come back to the city. After a little discussion, a motion was made and seconded and it will go to city staff to investigate as part of the Policy Consideration.
Council Member Neal Andrews said that he objected to the 10-cent fee on paper bags and suggested that it is a form of bribery to get the support of the grocery stores and that if the ordinance comes back with that that he would be against it but for now he is for the policy consideration.
Carl Morehouse thanked all speakers for coming including the opposition.
The policy consideration was then passed with a unanimous vote.
The plastic carry out bag has been given a bad rap because of misinformation. With the internet the propagation of bad information or myths are almost impossible to stop. For example, the plastic carry out bag is widely believed to have caused the death of 100,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds as a result of ingesting plastic bags. However, the allegation is untrue and was based on a Canadian study that stated the deaths were a result from discarded fishing nets and fishing tackle and not plastic bags or plastic debris as reported in an article published in The Times of London on March 8, 2008 entitled “Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain”.
Proponents of banning the plastic carry out bag have further demonized it by calling it a “single-use” plastic bag as part of a propaganda campaign. The real “single-use” bag is the plastic trash bag. Once the trash bag is used for its primary purpose to hold trash, it is never reused for any other purpose. The plastic carry out bag, on the other hand, once used for its primary purpose to carry purchases home, has a large number of secondary uses. Hence, this bag is really a multi-use bag. The reusable bag is also a multi-use bag but more durable. To call the plastic carry out bag a “single-use bag” is intellectually dishonest. Continue reading The Upside of Plastic Carry Out Bags→