Roper: How dumb is the plastic bag ban?

By Rob Roper

How dumb is the plastic bag ban? Even dumber than you probably think.

Forget the arguments we’ve made regarding the constitutional appropriateness of legislators deciding “paper or plastic” for us citizens in what is ostensibly a free society, and let’s pretend for a moment this is a legitimate exercise of government force. Is it a smart idea? Is it justified because it will in some measure help save the planet? No.

Rob Roper

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The objective of the plastic grocery bag ban, as stated by its supporters, is to force customers to bring their own reusable bags to the store, thus reducing litter and landfill waste. But, does it?

According to testimony before the House Fish & Wildlife Committee, the thin plastic bags are actually, on the whole, better for the environment than the alternatives. “They require fewer resources to produce, they’re domestically manufactured, the vast majority of Americans regularly reuse them, most often as trash can liners or to pick up waste.”

According to an April 9 report by NPR (those right wing radicals!), in places where the plastic grocery bags were banned, sales of retail garbage bags skyrocketed by 120 percent. Being thicker than the flimsy grocery bags, this creates more plastic waste. The Vermont bill under consideration, which would define “reusable” a 4 mil thick, would require using eight times more plastic. In addition, the bans created 80 million pounds of extra paper trash per year as people simply switched to paper bags. To quote from the article:

Plastic haters, it’s time to brace yourselves. A bunch of studies find that paper bags are actually worse for the environment. They require cutting down and processing trees, which involves lots of water, toxic chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery. While paper is biodegradable and avoids some of the problems of plastic, Taylor says, the huge increase of paper, together with the uptick in plastic trash bags, means banning plastic shopping bags increases greenhouse gas emissions.

If you believe that we have twelve years to get our greenhouse gas emissions under control or we’ll all die, as many of the bag-banners profess, this should be “game over” for plastic bag ban legislation, should it not?

But what about forcing people to use cloth bags (hence the brief flirtation with banning paper bags as well)? Again from NPR:

The Danish government recently did a study that took into account environmental impacts beyond simply greenhouse gas emissions, including water use, damage to ecosystems and air pollution. These factors make cloth bags even worse. They estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment.

That’s once a week for 385 years.

So, here’s where things stand. We know that the policy will generate more greenhouse gas emissions, will not do much if anything to reduce litter and land-fill waste, and will put Americans, who do manufacture thin grocery bags but don’t manufacture the heavier “reusable” plastic and cloth textile bags, out of work in favor of Asian manufacturers, who are the overwhelming source of plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean, which is the real problem.

Yet, despite having heard all of this, our elected officials look likely to go forward with this inane, intrusive, expensive, inconvenient, unhelpful to anyone policy anyway.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joe Mabel
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5 thoughts on “Roper: How dumb is the plastic bag ban?

  1. This is much like the how the federal CAFE standards force GM to stop making their 1/2 ton full size van because it was placed in the car category and thus pulled down the average fuel mileage of their car fleet. So not people who needed, or wanted, a full-size van had to buy the more expensive and less efficient 3/4 ton or 1 ton van.

  2. Unintentional Disaster, that pretty much sums up the leftist legislature for a number of
    years now. This year however they seemed to have outdone themselves. They actually now rival their swamp dwelling brethren in DC.. Damn the Citizen Full steam on AGENDA..
    Creating more pollution to cut pollution…

  3. Brought to Vermont by Leftard’s,the key of the word being Tard,that says it all.

  4. Great article. It opened my eyes on the plastic bag ban, not that I agreed with it to begin with but I never thought of the things you mentioned on the alternatives.
    Do you think our legislature will listen? I highly doubt it for it would go against their agenda that they know what’s best for all whether they are right or wrong..

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