Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans
December 19 2011

What does a 3% increase in violent crimes have to do with a plastic bag ban?

by Bill Hickman

Nothing, it's just a scare tactic.  In advance of the Seattle City Council vote on a plastic bag ban for the city that passed 9-0 (nice work Surfrider Foundation Seattle Chapter and other groups that helped to lead the effort!), a major plastic bag manufacturer started running an opposition ad in Seattle newspapers that could be described as scare tactics.  Why else would they include and image of police tape and a stat regarding violent crime?  Regarding plastic bags they make some questionable claims that I feel compelled to respond to. 

Claim #1: A new five cent bag fee – paid by you, pocketed by retailers.  Response: The five cent fee on paper bags goes to the retailer to offset their bag costs and helps to externalize the cost of carryout bags.  The cost of bags has been built into the cost of goods sold for many years.  Those retailer costs should vanish soon and potentially save consumers money in the long run.

Claim #2: A return to paper bags - use more energy, create more pollution.  Response: No, it’s intended as a return to reusable bags.  The five cent fee on paper bags also provides and incentive for people to remember their reusable bags.

Claim #3: Risky reusable bags – more toxic, create health risks.  Response: The study that recently made headlines claiming that reusable bags are teeming with bacteria was flawed, mainly because it was from a sample of 84 bags.  Yup, just 84 bags.  Consumer Reports recently covered the story and wrote, “A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study.”  It’s always best to choose domestically made reusable bags to make sure the inks are not toxic and the shipping distance is limited.

Claim #4: There is a better idea: more recycling.  Response: Sure, plastic bags are recyclable, just like many items, but it does not mean that they will be recycled.  My t-shirt is recyclable but chances are it will not be recycled, just like a plastic bag.  It’s tough to get solid numbers on plastic bag recycling rates because they are often lumped in with easier-to-recycle packaging film, but most percentage estimates are in the single digits.

Don’t believe the hype.  Carryout bag ordinances help to protect the environment and can save money for businesses, government cleanup and ultimately consumers/taxpayers.