Reason Foundation: Bag the Ban!

Reason Magazine’s Julian Morris recently published a well-written piece in TIME Magazine pushing back against the growing movement around the nation and in Texas to ban plastic shopping bags.

The thrust of Morris’ argument is that bag bans don’t “reduce litter, threaten sea life or contribute to greenhouse gases nearly as much as proponents would have you believe.”

Here’s more…

On reducing litter:

A recent review of numerous analyses of litter in our streets found that plastic shopping bags constituted one percent or less of visible litter in the United States. They also comprise only .4 percent of all municipal solid waste that’s discarded. To that end, there’s no evidence that banning plastic bags has reduced litter removal costs, and it won’t do much in the way of reducing trash collection costs, either. [emphasis mine]

On the impact on sea life:

Claims that plastic bags kill hundreds of thousands of marine animals seem connected to a misreading of a study that investigated the impact of discarded fishing gear. As David Santillo, a senior biologist with Greenpeace, explained to The Times of London: “It’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite…. With larger mammals it’s fishing gear that’s the big problem. On a global basis plastic bags aren’t an issue.” [emphasis mine]

On greenhouse gases: 

Lightweight plastic shopping bags are made from high density polyethylene, the feedstock for which – ethylene – is nearly entirely (over 97 percent) derived from natural gas. Given the newfound abundance of such gas in the United States and globally, there is little reason to be concerned about plastic shopping bags as a significant cause of resource depletion. And if you look at the per bag consumption of energy, water and emissions of greenhouse gases across different types of bags, those numbers are far lower for lightweight plastic bags than for paper or reusable ones.

Of course that does not tell the full story, since some bags are reused more than others. Surveys suggest that most people reuse their lightweight plastic bags, mainly for trash disposal, and on average each one is used 1.6 times. By contrast, paper bags are typically used only once. The thicker plastic bags, made from low density polyethylene, now being promoted as “reusable,” typically are used about 3.1 times. [emphasis mine]

Morris makes a compelling case that plastic bag bans do little, if anything, to achieve the commonly asserted goals that most people think they tackle. What’s more, the Center for Local Governance’s own work suggests that plastic bag bans “may pose a serious hazard to public health,” “restrict the basic freedom to choose,” and could even lead to “disastrous unintended consequences.” Considering all these adverse effects, it might be time to bag the ban!