18 September 2014

Do Plastic Bag Bans Do Any Good?

The short answer: YES.

Mother Jones reports that California has just banned plastic bags, but says "hold the rejoicing."

The article contains a lot of good information: you have to use a paper bag three times to reap an environmental benefit over plastic, when production costs are taken into account, and you have to use a cotton bag a whopping 131 times.

But if you shop twice a week, you'll get through those 131 uses in just over a year.

I can't speak for suburban folks with big cars to bring home huge loads of groceries, and big pantries and closets and freezers to store weeks of groceries at a time, but as a long-time city dweller, I can tell you I shop at least twice a week.

Some cloth bags might not last a year, particularly once they've gone through the wash a time or two, but I've had many cloth bags for a decade or more.

But here's what I think is the key statistic from the article: in studies in Ireland and California, 40 percent of shoppers didn't use a bag at all after bans or fees were imposed.

That blows all the re-use statistics out of the water.

Think about it: how many times have you left a convenience store with two items in a plastic bag, only to take one item out immediately? or both? Even if your community doesn't ban bags, think about just saying "no" to the bag next time. Or pick up the phone and call your local elected official and tell her or him to add a bag ban to the legislative agenda.