Background from Daily Camera:
Shopping in Boulder could get greener if some local students have their way. Inspired in part by a ban that passed in San Francisco in 2007, New Vista High and University of Colorado students are drafting an ordinance that would prohibit businesses — such as grocery stores — from using petroleum-based plastic bags. What do you think of the students’ idea?
My response, published in the January 16 edition:
If plastic bags are banned, would stores provide paper bags instead? This wouldn’t be “green.” The Washington Post reports that compared to plastic bags, paper bags require “more than four times as much energy to manufacture,” generate “70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants,” and require 85 times more energy per pound to recycle. In landfills, “plastic bags … take up so much less volume than paper bags,” says archeologist and landfill excavator William Rathje.
Or how about reusable canvas bags? I use one from Vitamin Cottage, but should I? Canada’s National Post reported that “two independent laboratories found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags.” A nice “environment” for groceries. In addition to food poisoning, “significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils.” Don’t forget, washing these bags consumes energy and resources.
And what about poor people? No more free trash bags. Their grocery bills will go up, as stores will raise prices to cover costs of buying pricey paper bags. Those who use fabric bags would also spend more on laundry to keep them sanitary.
Most fundamentally, banning plastic bags is an intolerant strain of authoritarian environmentalism. It violates the rights of consumers and business owners to live as they please.
The students should promote creative voluntary ways to reuse plastic bags. For example, as a college freshman in 2001, Tom Szaky founded TerraCycle, Inc. Its slogan: “Send us your trash! We’ll make it into cool products!”
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Not included in the article:
Should we be forced to fund the “bag police” to stake out grocery stores to make sure they are not (gasp) giving away plastic bags? It would OK to sell them, though.
Paper Grocery Bags Require More Energy Than Plastic Bags, Skaidra Smith-Heisters, Reason Foundation
SaveThePlasticBag.com: Good references, though I do not necessarily support the political causes it does.
Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain, The Times (UK)
Interesting tid-bit on litter and plastic bags from the San Francisco Weekly:
The city’s “Streets Litter Audit” is a fantastically detailed document; it even codifies what brand of cigarettes San Franciscans most frequently dispose of improperly (Marlboros, by a mile). Yet regarding plastic shopping bags, the researchers found more of them on the streets in post-ban 2008 than pre-ban ’07. What’s more, the audit reveals plastic bags comprise only 2.6 percent of the city’s litter; even with the jump in ’08, they were never a major source of litter — just a highly visible one. ….
While the ’08 survey found more plastic bags on the streets than in the prior year, overall litter was down 17 percent. The supervisor also notes that the ban covers only the large grocery stores and pharmacies, which can ostensibly afford to stock costly paper or biodegradable plastic bags — and “that leaves quite a few bags out there.