Skip to comments.Plastic Bag Bans: Another Feel-Good Eco-Fad
Posted on 07/31/2012 10:27:08 AM PDT by Sir Napsalot
Across the country, cities are joining the latest environmental trend banning plastic grocery bags. Concerned about the amount of plastic that reaches our oceans and the impact on wildlife, communities have decided that banning the bags is a simple and environmentally responsible approach.
But is it? What does the science say?
The evidence points to the fact that banning the bags may actually be a net negative for the environment, yielding little benefit to wildlife while significantly increasing carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.
Advocates of banning plastic grocery bags often cite impacts on marine life and mammals, but they rarely attempt to quantify that impact. Unfortunately, many attempts to quantify those impacts are simply false or misleading. For example, one city council in Washington state was told the ecological impacts of this plastic include over a million sea-birds and 100,000 marine mammals killed by either plastic ingestions or entanglement.
In fact, the claim about harm to marine mammals and sea-birds has nothing to do with plastic bags. NOAA corrected the claim about seabirds on its web page saying, We are so far unable to find a scientific reference for this figure. The only study NOAA can find does not deal with plastic bags or even marine debris, but active fishing gear bycatch, in other words, fishing nets that are being used at sea, not discarded plastic bags.
The Times of London addressed this very issue in 2008, even quoting a Greenpeace biologist saying, Its very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite. We are not going to solve the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags.
One of the most commonly heard claims is that plastic bags, and other plastic, have created the Pacific Garbage Patch. Some claim it is twice the size of Texas. This is simply false. Last year, Oregon State University reported that the actual amount is less than one percent the size of Texas. Oceanography professor Angel White sent out a release last year saying, There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the worlds oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists.
Additionally, White notes that the amount of plastic in the ocean hasnt been increasing. For example, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found the amount of plastic in the Atlantic Ocean hasnt increased since the 1980s.
This doesnt mean plastic bags cause no impact. When determining the environmental costs and benefits, however, we need to be honest about the science.
Indeed, there are risks from banning plastic grocery bags.
The most significant environmental risk from banning plastic bags is the increase in energy use. Plastic bags are the most energy-efficient form of grocery bag. The U.K. Environment Agency compared energy use for plastic, paper and re-usable bags. It found the global warming potential of plastic grocery bags is one-fourth that of paper bags and 1/173rd that of a reusable cotton bag. In other words, consumers would have to use a reusable cotton bag 173 times before they broke even from an energy standpoint. Thus, even if consumers switched to reusable bags, it is not clear there would be a reduced environmental impact.
Ironically, many of the cities leading the charge against plastic bags are signatories to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Yet, few of these cities even attempt to assess the climate impact of switching from the least energy-intensive grocery bag to bags that use far more energy to produce.
The U.K. Environment Agency study is echoed by other research as well, and the reason is simple grocery stores began using plastic bags in part because they are cheaper to produce, in part because they use less energy to manufacture.
Finally, it should be noted that the benefit of banning plastic bags is mitigated by the fact that half of the bags are used for other purposes, like for garbage bags or for picking up after pets. Grocery shoppers will still have to buy other bags, likely plastic, for those purposes.
In the end, communities need to sincerely weigh these various environmental costs. Unfortunately, few do any analysis because the political symbolism of banning the bags is powerful. It is often easier to ignore the science that indicates such bans may actually harm the environment than make an honest effort to weigh these difficult issues.
This is why plastic bag bans have become more environmental fad than environmental benefit.
If we don't have plastic grocery bags, we'll need to purchase new 'other things', including plastic bags, to replace the handy-dandy plastic grocery bags.
But I get the powerful feel-good feelings of reusing shopping bags at the grocery store, I've seen plenty in my area.
I have a great idea.
How about paper bags?
The leftist aka progressive treehuggers forced plastic bags on America. In the name of saving the planet. Now they want to ban them.
1. More expensive.
2. Cockroach vectors.
the canvas bags that everyone will be using and plopping down on the conveyor belt at the grocery store, will have all kinds of micro-organisms on them. I doubt people will ever clean the inside or OUTSIDE of these bags. These will then, in turn, spread disease... imagine putting your lettuce (which can sometimes peak over the plastic bag it’s in) on top of that same conveyor belt.
How am I gunna clean the litter boxes then?
I remember back in the early 70’s they switched us off paper and onto plastic to try and save trees. Idiots!
The environmentalists banned paper bags, remember? It cut down too many trees. That's how we ended up with plastic.
First we had the coming ice age. Then we had global warming. Today it's climate change.
The stupid liberals have no idea what they're doing, and the rest of us get stuck dealing with the consequences. Why won't they just sit down and leave the rest of the globe alone?
For those of us who are cat owners & clean litter boxes daily, this will be AWFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m sure a company will come along w/ small bags that we then have to BUY!!!!!!!!!!!!! It really never ends.
Sorry, I didn’t read your post before I wrote mine!
The plastic bags are just the right size for our bathroom trash can. We use them all the time. If we have to return to paper, we'll just throw them right in the trash - right along with those ugly, squiggly light bulbs.
In New Mexico, we used to identify the “F” rating of a dust devil by the number of Walmart plastic bags swirling around in the cyclone. 1 bag = F1, and so on.
If the bags are banned, an important meteorological tool will be lost to us.
Dog waste pickup.
Pickup of dead moles, rats, etc. from crawlspace.
Trash can liners in bathrooms and in the little trash can holder under the kitchen sink (that otherwise uses the expensive little plastic bags with 'ears' on a roll).
Deadheading the rhododendrons.
Hanging off a nail on the end of my sawhorse for tossing bent nails, wood scraps, etc.
Trash pickup along the road where passersby toss fast food trash, etc.
Hauling deceased frozen mallards for dog training.
Carrying home vegetables from friends and neighbors' gardens.
We use the darn things ALL the time for EVERYTHING.
I would stock up on them, if there is one in the works. And I fully expect in our corner of the Marxists city, this would already be in the proposal.
Ew, I didn’t think of those issues.
Good thing our tap water is safe, else we'd have billions of those evil pastic bottles to deal with.
I always used the small child trapped in a tumbleweed scale myself. And for judging rainfall, the speed at which a homeless person clutching a mattress traveled down the arroyo.
When I worked at Sun Healthcare, there was one day during a monsoon storm that a co-worker and I were watching the arroyo that bisected the campus fill up, and we joked about all the detritus that comes tumbling down when the waters flow. "Shopping carts, tumbleweeds, people..."
Next thing you know, this guy goes whooshing by, and looks right at us. We were up on the third floor of the building, so we couldn't do much, but a couple of others rushed out of the first floor and tried to catch him. The ABQ fire department eventually saved the day.
This was about 10 years ago, IIRC.
I use paper AND plastic.
We use them for the bathroom trash liner too!