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Plastic Bag Bans ‘Present Hidden Environmental, Economic Costs’

Plastic bag bans incur hidden economic and environmental costs that are “virtually ignored,” according to conservative think tank the National Center for Policy Analysis.

More than two dozen cities – including Seattle and San Francisco – have enacted bans or imposed fees for using such bags, but anecdotal evidence suggests that curbs on plastic bags has affected commerce in the cities where such laws have been enacted, according to a column by NCPA senior fellow H. Sterling Burnett on Waste & Recycling news’ web site.

In the current economic conditions the use of plastic bags could save U.S. jobs, according to Burnett. China is the world’s largest manufacturer of reusable bags, while many plastic bags are made on American soil. Bag bans could then be “handing China control of yet another industry” while threatening U.S. jobs, according to Burnett.  Evidence also suggests that, without appropriate care, reusable bags can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Burnett also argues that plastic bags – regularly referred to as “single-use” – are rarely used just one time. Bags are regularly used as trash bags, lunch bags and for picking up pet waste, Burnett says. If easy access to plastic bags is curbed it will only lead to increased sales of trash bags and baggies, he argues.

However, according to Plastics Today, there is likely to be an increase in bans and curbs on bag use in 2012 – San Francisco is currently looking to extend its partial ban on single use bags.  According to a piece on the Science 2.0 web site, while outright bans may not be a perfect solution, they do offer a “useful way to begin reducing waste pollution.”

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16 thoughts on “Plastic Bag Bans ‘Present Hidden Environmental, Economic Costs’

  1. Burnett is correct: plastic bags are regularly used as trash bags. How will I put the trash out, even collect small recyclables ? I have to put them in grocery plastic bags. If not, people will have to buy plastic bags.

    The point is to use less plastic bags, and reuse them always as possible. I saw on TV, in Brazil HDPE plastic bags are being recycled into sleepers, railway crossbars. That is the way.

  2. Having worked at a landfill and driving to and from work to that landfill daily I can tell you that those plastic bags, even reused, float out of trucks while driving or tipping, and land in our trees, streams, sewers along the road side and surrouding neighbohoods. The same can happen to paper or other light items, but those at least will boddegrade. Sure there are folks paid to try and catch those fly aways, but that is not going to eliminate the problem. If a plastic bag ends up at a traditional recycling facility they can often bog down the equipment and cause a loss of productivity. Plastic bags take 10-20 years to biodegrade in a landfill, so reduce the use, reuse when you can and recycle them in the grocery store collection programs where they are made into MANY different products, made here in the USA as well if one makes the right choices, but they are not good for our communities and what the think tank didn’t even care to address in the article with anecdotle evidence,the bags are horrible for the environment.You know, that thing called the Earth we need to survive.

  3. Their are other “environmental” and “economic” implications than those mentioned by the think tank, but ones that however destroy their arguments. The manufacture of single use plastic bags is predicated first on the ability to procure plastic as a petroleum by product. Reducing the use of plastic overall helps decrease dependency on petroleum. They may get “reused” but they are still a significant contributor to pollution, not just in landfills, but in the ocean as well. So what if we manufacture less plastic? That means we send fewer pollutants into the air? If the trend is heading towards resuable bags, don’t you think it behooves the single plastic bag manufacturers to attempt to enter that market? We don’t need to protect uncompetitive businesses for fear of “losing an industry to China” . People substituting their single use plastic bags with other plastics is already a conservation behavior, meaning that they already understand that such bags can be utilized more than once. The bag bans are normative decision making to encourage the behavior of reuse.

    And on the note of “breeding grounds for bacteria”, what kind of moron doesn’t wash their produce before eating it? You can wash reusable bags as well. Anything that contains anything will have bacteria in it. What? You expected your single use plastic bag to be operating roo sterile?

  4. Senior Fellow Burnett sounds as if he’s just spouting hot air. Where does he get data that says any significant number of consumers recycle their bags? Is he taking spot observations of dog walkers on his street? Does he hang out at the malls, factories, and big-box retail stores and watch workers come and go with their lunches tightly ensconced in those bags? When are we going to stop increasing our ever-growing list of petroleum-based products that we just can’t seem to do without?

  5. Guys… really? I’m all for other points of views but these don’t even merit a respons other than – please don’t give these clowns a voice. They’re whole purpose is just to confuse simple people.

  6. This author is clutching at straws. One-time use plastic bags (which most disposable bags are despite the minority of those that are reused once) are wasteful, completely unnecessary, and pollute our environment both in their manufacture and disposal.

  7. Playing on economic fears – especially the Chinese Dragon – to reject sensible policies. This smells of money, not good environmental sense.

  8. Towns, citizens, and retailers face a dilemma every day as they wrestle with the issue of bringing home their groceries. There is an ongoing debate among governments and environmentalists regarding which is worse for the environment, paper, plastic, or reusables. While there has been a push on reusables lately, a recent study by the DPW of Santa Cruz, CA found that unless bags are reused over 200 times, they have a larger carbon footprint than disposable/recyclable plastic bags. In fact, most reusable bags are only used 3-5 times. This is in addition to the concerns raised in the University of Arizona potential disease from E. coli that is harvested in the bags. We at GXT Green believe that we have the best solution, our ECOgrade photodegradable bags. These bags have a smaller carbon footprint than plastic, paper, or reusables, use less energy to manufacture, can be recycled with other plastics, and, if littered, will photo-degrade to a non-toxic residue in 240 days or less. Unlike previous generations of degradable bags, they also cost about the same as plastic bags to manufacture. We encourage communities to consider this solution for their bag legislation, which is convenient for consumers, cost effective for retailers, and has a lower environmental impact, before they simply move their citizens to an unsustainable long-term bag ban.

  9. As a marine science educator (31 years)…I struggle with this issue. Plastic made from oil/natural gas is not biodegradeable? So: we are using fossil fuels and making a virtually indestructable product that doesn’t biodegrade? Why? More and more of Oregon’s ocean beaches are littered by plastic. Why not use “plastics” made from wood cellulose or soy/corn? These would biodegrade. Why not encourage reuseable bags? Why not end the “throw away mentality?” Less plastic equals cleaner/safer oceans, less use of fossil fuels, less solid waste issues? Seems logical?

    John F. Borowski

  10. Small correction to John F. Borrowski’s point – a great many plastics made from plant matter (bioplastics) do not biodegrade. In fact, chemically speaking, most of them have exactly the same chemical structures as regular plastics – which means they hang around for just as long. The environmental benefit of bioplastics is that they are made from renewable sources (not fossil fuels) and producing them tends to release fewer greenhouse gas emissions (but this is not a given either).

    Biotechnology is becoming increasingly sophisticated. There are now bioplastics that are so tough and long-lasting that they can be used in super-hostile environments, such as car engines.

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