Opinion: Why bans on plastic bags and straws are annoying and overrated

By Jarrett Stepman | The Daily Signal

Canada, following precedent set by the European Union, is poised to join a growing list of places where single-use plastic items have been banned. Though the government hasn’t specified which items will actually be outlawed in 2021, according to The Guardian, “bottles, plastic bags, and straws” are being considered.

First, they came for the bags. Then, they came for the straws, but perhaps instead of looking for other common products to ban, we should look at what these regulations actually do.

Of course, plastic bans aren’t just restricted to Europe and Canada.

Wikimedia Commons/Adam Jones

The straw ban, which started in Seattle and has moved on to other cities, has largely been fueled by an informal survey by a 9-year-old activist and the mistaken notion the U.S. is causing plastic buildup in the oceans.

Plastic bag bans have come to California and New York, and to a number of cities in the United States. The bans are typically aimed at grocery stores and other businesses that give out the bags to customers to carry out purchased items.

The bag bans are billed as a means to reduce waste and pollution by forcing Americans to bring reusable bags to stores.

However, it turns out that not only are those bans an inconvenience, they also have questionable positive benefits for the environment — and may actually be making things worse.

A recent study by University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor in Australia established that bans on plastic shopping bags change behavior; namely, people used fewer plastic shopping bags as the sources dried up.

However, people didn’t stop using plastic bags as a whole. Instead of reusing plastic bags as trash can liners, for example, customers purchased garbage bags to make up for the lost supply.

In areas with the shopping bag bans, there was a huge upsurge in the purchase of 4-gallon bags. These bags are typically thicker than the thin plastic shopping bags and use more plastic.

“What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned,” Taylor said in an interview with National Public Radio. “ … so, about 30% of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags.”

In addition, a plastic bag ban causes a jump in the use of paper bags — creating, according to the study, about 80 million pounds of additional paper bag trash a year.

That may seem like a reasonable trade-off. After all, paper bags are biodegradable, right?

Yes, but the process of manufacturing those bags is still quite intensive, and there’s evidence that paper bags are actually worse for the environment, according to some studies.

Not surprisingly, some big-government nannies want to ban, or at least curtail, the use of paper bags also, for good measure.

As for the environmentally-friendly reusable bags, studies have found that they create few “green” benefits. Worse, they are often highly unsanitary.

Plastic bags are, of course, not the only plastic items that cities are trying to do away with. An even less useful crusade, this one against plastic straws, has been gaining steam as well.

The straw ban, which started in Seattle and has moved on to other cities, has largely been fueled by an informal survey by a 9-year-old activist and the mistaken notion the U.S. is causing plastic buildup in the oceans.

Again, the ban is ineffective or useless at best. It ends up being little more than an inconvenience for those who now have to suffer through soggy, melting paper straws that taste like a used paper towel halfway through a drink.

There are certainly worse laws and petty tyrannies to suffer under than bans on plastic bags. Nevertheless, it’s ironic that a progressive “utopia” such as San Francisco is waging war on plastic grocery bags, with a total ban looming in the near future, even as it is literally covered in trash, hypodermic needles, and human waste.

Our zeal to fix First World problems is also coming at the expense of not stopping re-emerging Third World problems.

That said, Americans live in a wealthy society, in which we have the luxury of making economic sacrifices to improve our environment. Local polities are free to eliminate plastic bags and straws—or other such things—as they see fit.

However, it’s telling that so many of these movements are based on little more than environmentalist virtue-signaling, and create additional hassles, rather than effective measures to make our communities better or cleaner.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Adam Jones

4 thoughts on “Opinion: Why bans on plastic bags and straws are annoying and overrated

  1. If they really wanted to do something, they should have mandated a 50% reduction in plastic packaging over 5 years and a 75% reduction in 10 years. Funny how none of them have a brain that thinks things out and finds the real source of the problem.

  2. Oh good does this mean we can sue the State if we get some horrible disease from our reuseable shopping bags?? Since they are forcing this on us they should be held responsible!! As for plastic straws..ugh give me a break.. this State is just over the top as usual.. and snuck this thru as usual.. heaven forbid we dumb clucks should have a say!!

    And as of July 1 we no longer can purchase vape liquids at our favorite online retailer..cheaper, sometimes better quality..and may help keep us away from the cancer causing cig habit. But who cares if you are an adult in this State, you forfeited your rights by living in Vermont. So over this!!

  3. People need to smarten up. The problems with plastic in our oceans comes from Asia and Africa as DBEAN mentioned, above. All these non thinking liberals who would place more restrictions on clean living Americans only underscore their foolishness and exposes their lust for power.

  4. Like the warmongering hoax this is just more lies from the dead grey matte tween the ears of leftarded
    Fascist. In the panic to fix the ozone hole the product to replace freon ends up polluting the atmosphere
    more… In the zeal to make leftarded feelz good they want to charge you more for your needed living materials in the name of a .0001 change in the problem..
    For the oceans full of trash lie 90% comes from 10 rivers none of which are from VT much less NE or
    even the USA
    Eight of them are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger.
    Again the USA is not the problem and your leftarded idea is only going to make MORE PLASTIC needed
    in the form of thicker bags instead of using 1use for trash cans you now have to buy bags. So they will accelerate the need for more carbon in the ozizone and more drilling for oil for plastic in the name of cleaning the oceans we barely even pollute . Canada does by sending there trash to the Philippines.

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