Planet Gore

A Suffocating Plastic-Bag Ban

In late May, the city of Los Angeles banned plastic bags. Pushed by Hollywood liberals who were allegedly concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of plastic bags, the ban will take place over the next year. From the LA Times (which supported the ban):

Egged on by actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and an array of environmental groups, the City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 12 months at an estimated 7,500 stores. Councilman Bernard Parks cast the lone no vote.

From another Times article:

The City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores, meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.

The phase-out discrepancy aside, the irony of it all is the utter inaccuracy of various statements by supporters of the ban. From one such individual:

“Plastic bags are an environmental and economic threat,” said Sarah Sikich, director of coastal resources for Heal the Bay. “Heal the Bay applauds Los Angeles for becoming the largest city in the nation to take a stand against plastic pollution. We hope this decision catalyzes the state of California and the rest of the nation to take action.”

There are at least three basic reasons this ban shouldn’t be in place, and certainly shouldn’t be expanded to the state and nation:

1.  Californians use 12 billion plastic bags per year, according to advocates of the ban. If this policy was expanded to the entire state, this would cost citizens $600 million per year, or over $30 per person. Is this really an ethical policy, charging people via government fiat merely to shop? Or is it more like New York’s new soda restriction proposals, where Bloomberg has said he’s not taking away freedoms even as he does so?

(Note: The cost per citizen was calculated using the following math: 12 billion divided by 2 divided by 10 divided by half of California’s 2011 population of 37,691,912.)

2.  Second, jobs could be lost. Local businesses are fighting back with a newly released ad highlighting testimony by local workers about the risk to their jobs. The ban’s supporters say no businesses have closed in Santa Monica, Calif. — which implemented a plastic-bag ban — but as one woman pointed out in the ad, the reusable bags are made in China.  

3.  The environmental impact of plastic bags is debatable at best. My good friend and Just Facts President Jim Agresti recently r eported on a study related to just this subject. From his blog post:

In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency released a study that evaluated nine categories of environmental impacts caused by different types of supermarket bags. The study found that paper bags have a worse effect on the environment than plastic bags in all nine impact categories, which include global warming potential, abiotic depletion, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity, marine aquatic ecotoxicity, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and photochemical oxidation.

And later:

Critics of plastic bags frequently argue that they “take hundreds of years to decompose” . . .

Such logic ignores reality in two key respects . . .

First, modern-day landfills are generally benign because they have composite liners, clay caps, and runoff collections systems. As explained in a 1999 paper in the Journal of Environmental Engineering, modern landfills have “minimum odor nuisance,” “pose few problems after they are closed,” and “are a tribute to sanitary engineering.” Moreover, after being closed, landfills can be used for parks, commercial development, golf courses, nature conservatories, ski slopes, and airfields.

Second, even organic materials in landfills commonly take hundreds of years to decompose . . .

A study of landfills sponsored by the University of Arizona found that the tightly compacted contents of landfills create low-oxygen environments that inhibit decomposition. The details of the study were published in the book, Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage (2001), which explains that:

• “the dynamics of a landfill are very nearly the opposite of what most people think.”

• landfills “are not vast composters; rather, they are vast mummifiers.”

• “almost all the organic material” from the 1950s in a Phoenix landfill “remained readily identifiable: Pages from coloring books were still clearly that, onion parings were onion parings, carrot tops were carrot tops.”

• much of the organic material in an ancient Roman landfill that was twenty centuries old had not fully decomposed.

So, in short, the same rich Hollywood liberals who claim to want to help the environment actually may not be doing so. They also are harming the non-rich people who make plastic bags by potentially causing them to lose jobs through government-mandated outsourcing. Finally, they are pushing for legislation that would cause the little guy and gal extra money merely to get groceries for their families.

Perhaps the Occupiers are at the wrong location . . .

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