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san francisco plastic bag cost

Plastic Bag Bans ‘Hurt the Environment,’ Study Says

san francisco plastic bag costPlastic bag bans don’t decrease costs for cities and hurt the environment, according to a study from the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money? says the bans force consumers to use paper bags and reusable bags, which use more energy, resources, produce more greenhouse gases and create more waste and pollution than plastic grocery bags.

The study examined the effect of various plastic bag bans or restrictions in six cities including San Francisco, the city and county of Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., Washington DC and Brownsville, Texas. Cities that have banned the bags show no evidence that policy has led to a reduction in litter, solid waste disposal or recycling costs, according to the study authored by NCPA senior fellow H. Sterling Burnett.

When San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007, officials argued the new ordinance would reduce disposal costs. Burnett says garbage and recycling rates have instead risen more than 78.6 percent in the city between 2005 and 2013.

Los Angeles County’s plastic bag ban didn’t go into effect until 2011. The study says projected spending rose 5.9 percent from 2011-2012 to the adopted budget for 2012-13.

In June, the city of Los Angeles also approved an ordinance outlawing retail use of thin-flm polyethylene bags, making it the largest US city to prohibit single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and retail chains that sell food such as Target and Walmart.

The rule, which goes in effect in January 2014 for large stores and July 2014 for smaller stores, sets a 10-cent price on paper bags to encourage customers to bring their own re-usable bags. Plastic bags used for produce are exempt from the ordinance.

Burnett initially pushed the idea that plastic bag bans might have a negative effect on cities in February 2012.  At the time, Burnett argued the use of plastic bags could save US jobs.

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 US jobs, according to Burnett.

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14 thoughts on “Plastic Bag Bans ‘Hurt the Environment,’ Study Says

  1. This article misses the point of why thin film plastic bags should be banned. It is not about money. Single use plastic bags are almost never recycled. Consumers rarely make the effort to return bags to stores, which are the primary places that accept bags for recycling. Single use plastic bags cannot be put into single stream recycling because they clog the machines and are difficult to handle. The bags have low value as a recycling feedstock and are difficult to upcycle into other products. Plastic bags never biodegrade. Instead, they break down into tiny particles that invade the oceans and beaches and are eaten by wildlife, causing damage and death. These are all social, economic and environmental harms that are not captured in this article.

  2. The National Center for Policy Analysis also doubts whether climate change is man-made. You really expect them to have an unbiased view on banning plastic bags? Where are the alternative studies that show the benefits?

  3. Take a look at the author’s right-wing leanings in his bio as well. Texas Public Policy Foundation. One look at that website at texaspolicy.com and you’ll see right through this flawed analysis.

  4. This is a story about a shameful and ridiculous policy analysis. Please use your own common sense and do some additional research when considering a single use bag ban in your community.

  5. The NCPA clearly has an agenda and the idea that their analysis is impartial is laughable. My family has been using the same reusable shopping bags for 20 years and we have saved the use of many thousands of thin-film single-use plastic supermarket / shopping bags during that time. I see the plastic supermarket bags that are used by others on the sea shore of the island I live on, in our marinas, blowing along our streets, and blowing out of the landfill into hedgerows, and into the sea. Single use plastic bags have been found clogging the stomach of autopsied juvenile minke whales locally so please don’t insult the readers’ intelligence by suggesting that a plastic bag ban harms the environment. This press release is not worthy of your ‘Environmental Leader’ website.

  6. Has the National Center for Policy Analysis considered other “shameful and ridiculous policy” associated with oil industry subsidies that ultimately support the over production of single use plastic bags? Seems that if we’re are going to be subjected to an analysis that links increase disposal costs with the ban of bags (eg. plastic bags are not the smoking gun related to higher disposal cost in S.F) than a more robust view of other links tied to the argument of increased costs and ‘hurting the environment’ need to presented and explored.

  7. It seems like the readers of Environmental Leader have better scrutiny than the authors. No offense to whoever at EL included this article, because I appreciate reading about all sides of the debate on environmental issues. However, it would have helped to hear both sides of the story on this one. I thank the good readers of EL who added their comments to flesh out this story, since there are clearly some good reasons why cities and entire countries have opted for banning single use plastic bags. There are environmental impacts that future generations will have to pay for, which don’t get incorporated into the very low production costs.

  8. In addition to the published comments It must be stressed that the public debate has to go beyond the sterile opposition between disposable materials because the single use habit is not sustainable any longer.
    We simply can’t have seven billion of people on one planet consuming the amount of energy, raw materials, water, etc that can be delivered by two or three planets. In order to feed nine billion people by 2050 we need to halve the current consumption rate of natural resources, raw materials, etc. In conclusion all this kind of studies are to be considered aside from anachronistic as results of lobbying activities that have nothing to do with science.

  9. The reason why plastic bag recycling rates are so low, is that people reuse plastic bags as trash bags and most end up in the landfill filled with trash. Once these bags are in the landfill they are no longer able to be recycled. In fact, it is beneficial to reuse a plastic bag as a trash bag since it avoids the purchase and manufacture of another plastic trash bag.

  10. Agree with the post above – I am typically a fan of any legislation that is pro-environment at the expense of big business, but the plastic bag ban just means that I now have to purchase garbage bags, which I have not done for years as I have just been re-using my plastic grocery store bags.

  11. The mythology of the environmental argument that is cited to support bag bans does not hold up. Virtually every metric by which results are measured shows that bag bans hurt the environment. The only measure that seems beneficial is that supporting a bag ban “feels good” for those who believe in unsubstantiated mythology.

    Likely, these are the same people who believe that global warming is CAUSED by mankind. Again, metrics of science show that global warming is a cycle — and yet people continue to buy into the overstated conclusion that it is caused by man.

    That which is stated over and over again is often believed by the uneducated or the lazy. Unfortunately, it does not make it true.


  12. The above ‘mythology’ posting is utterly false. To wit: the statement “metrics of science show that global warming is a cycle — and yet people continue to buy into the overstated conclusion that it is caused by man”; is false.
    In the first place, over 97% of climate scientists – those most likely to have unbiased and full understanding of the issues and the ‘metrics’ of the science – support the conclusion that global warming is a combination of both natural fluctuations and new climate forcings caused by human activities. Those scientific conclusions that such a vast majority support; are backed up by reams and reams of evidence collected all over the world. One simple example: since the 1950s, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been unequivocally observed to be rapidly rising. The isotopic makeup of the observed CO2 increase makes it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that the overwhelming sources of the extra CO2 are human activities; mainly the burning of vast amounts of fossil fuels. And of course, it is a matter of freshman physics that increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2 contribute to the retention of heat energy. Q.E.D. – global warming is caused in large part by human activities.
    The talk about uneducated or lazy people believing things that are stated over and over again; is mostly applicable to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) deniers…

  13. In response to the above who re-use their plastic bags as trash bags and say the “save” the purchase of a trash bag. USE PAPER ALREADY. It is degradable, free, and it does not preserve your trash in a landfill for a few extra centuries and cause additional global warming in the process.

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