8/23/2015

The unintended consequences of plastic bag bans

From Bloomberg:
When the city council in Austin, Texaspassed a single-use plastic shopping bag ban in 2013, it assumed environmental benefits would follow. The calculation was reasonable enough: Fewer single-use bags in circulation would mean less waste at city landfills. 
Two years later, an assessment commissioned by the city finds that the ban is having an unintended effect –- people are now throwing away heavy-duty reusable plastic bags at an unprecedented rate. The city's good intentions have proven all too vulnerable to the laws of supply and demand. 
What's true for Austin is likely true elsewhere. Plastic bag bans are one of America's most popular environmental measures of recent years . . . . 
plastic bags simply aren't that big of a problem. . . . . A more finely tuned litter survey in Fort Worth, Texas (reported in the Austin assessment) found that just 0.12 percent of the weight of litter in the city (which does not have a ban) comes from single-use bags. 
Nonetheless, . . . weight isn't the only measure of environmental impact. Single-use plastic bags pose outsized problems in the form of visual pollution on the landscape . . . . 
reducing the use of a product that's harmful to the environment is no guarantee of a positive environmental outcome. . . . To that end, the city encouraged residents to instead use reusable bags. Those bags have larger carbon footprints, due to the greater energy required to produce their stronger plastics, but the city figured the overall impact would be lower, as consumers got acquainted with the new, more durable product.  What the city didn't foresee is that residents would start treating reusable bags like single-use bags. . . .

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4 Comments:

Blogger kotetu said...

Austin reminds me of California.

8/23/2015 9:19 AM  
Blogger Jerry The Geek said...

Interesting that you should focus on that issue. In my little college town in Corvallis (Oregon), the City Fathers decreed that 'large' retail stores (determined by number of employees and some additional arcane formulae) must CHARGE if they have to provide their customers with single-use plastic bags.

Most of us (including myself) opted to buy the one-dollar and fifty-cent size 'multi-use' plastic bags for our market purchases.

On the other hand, many of us had been using the single-use/cheap, thin plastic bags as wastebasket liners.

Now I buy 'wastebasket liners' (in much heavier weight) and use them for my small trash bags. And of course, at the end of the week they go .. where? Into the trash, of course.

So the retail stores are happy ... they have improved their market for heavy-weight wastebasket liners. They don't have to provide bags for groceries; and if they do, we PAY THEM for the privilege!

The same amount of outlive-the-dinosaurs plastic bags go into the landfill. I pay more for the privilege (because we use to be able to recycle the thin 'give-aways' at the store), and the politicians are happy because they can be seen to have "Done Something".

It's another Bugs Bunny Moment:

"What a bunch of Maroons!"

8/24/2015 1:31 AM  
Blogger Will said...

There was an article by Jay Beeber at reason.com on May 23, 2012 about the proposed bag ban in Los Angeles.

Some good info in it. Although he touches on the health issues of dedicated food shopping bags, one area he missed was potential deaths from contaminated bags. I read a study that concluded that San Francisco has about 5 deaths/year due to this problem. That does not count how many get ill and don't die, and how much that cost. Another stupid European practice that stupid politicians want to shove down our throats.

9/07/2015 6:46 PM  
Blogger Chad Yarbrough said...

Next, we'll see the fee for multi-use bags skyrocket in an attempt to force us to buy and re-use...

9/08/2015 6:16 PM  

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