California law to ban plastic bags will not protect environment or reduce litter

We’ve posted about the California legislature’s latest questionable environmental regulation du jour to ban plastic bags and allow groceries, eateries, and other stores to charge fees for paper bags here and here. The idea behind SB 270, introduced by State Senator Alex Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley), is that this will benefit the environment and reduce municipal costs.

ban-plastic-bagsBut in a new study by Julian Morris and Landce Christensen of the Reason Foundation, available evidence suggests laws that ban plastic bags are an empty gesture that will do nothing to protect the environment including marine habitats, nor on amounts of litter or impact on storm drains. In fact, Morris and Christensen show that attempts to ban plastic bags will:

– Have practically no impact on the amount of litter generated (moreover, while a efforts to bam plastic bags at small retailers might reduce plastic bag litter by 0.5%, banning the distribution of HDPE plastic bags by large retailers is unlikely to have any impact even on the amount of HDPE plastic bag litter produced.)

– Have no discernible impact on the amount of plastic in the ocean or on the number of marine animals harmed by debris;

– Increase the use of oil and other non-renewable energy resources, including coal and natural gas;

– Efforts to ban of plastic bags will result in five-fold or greater increase in the shopping bag-related use of water;

– Laws that ban plastic bags make little or no difference to the costs of municipal waste management; and

– To ban plastic bags will create enormous additional costs on California’s consumers, likely over $1 billion in both direct and indirect costs (such as time spent washing reusable bags). 

According to the report on impacts of legislation to ban plastic bags

HDPE plastic bags do not constitute a significant proportion of the nation’s waste. Since all alternative bags—including LDPE, NWPP and paper—are significantly heavier than HDPE bags, and since consumers would likely switch to some combination of these alternatives, it is quite possible that eliminating HDPE bags would result in an increase in the amount of waste discarded.

Moreover, as noted above, the amount of non-renewable energy consumed by using only HDPE bags would be about half the amount consumed for an average household using NWPP, LDPE or paper bags. Meanwhile the amount of water consumed during the life-cycle of an HDPE bag is one-fifth that of the next closest bag (paper). So, banning HDPE bags results in a significant increase in waste of energy and water.

See links to the report and table of current municipalities, states, and countries that ban plastic bags:

An Evaluation of the Effects of California’s Proposed Plastic Bag BanPDF, 3.3 MBJulian Morris and Lance Christensen

Appendix: Plastic Bag Bans in the United States and Other CountriesPDF, 262.4 KBJulian Morris and Lance Christensen





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