This past month’s purchasing frenzy before Christmas no doubt consumed a great many plastic carryout bags. Nonetheless, the concept of banning these kinds of bags seems to be gaining ground, maybe even within the plastics industry itself.
Currently, Plastech.biz is running a forum questionnaire asking a very general question: Are plastic bag bans needed? As of this blog posting, over half the respondents have indicated they agree with bag bans, with only a third saying “disagree” (you can vote and see the results here). This seems like an unexpected shift in the viewpoint of people who make and sell plastic products.
If the trend toward accepting bag bans is strengthening, it comes during a time when numerous reports have indicated the advantages of plastic carryout bags in terms of total environmental costs, or that bans or taxes aren’t effective ways to address bag issues, in comparison with other approaches; here’s just a few recent references:
- an unpublished study showing that plastic bags impact the climate (in terms of CO2-equivalent emissions) less than reusable cotton bags do;
- arguments saying that bag collection and recycling have been effective alternatives to bag bans or taxes;
- observations that total bag-plastic use increases after carryout bag restrictions are put in place, as consumers buy more and heavier garbage bags for throwing out their trash; and
- effective efforts by retailers that reduce the excessive, wasteful use of carryout bags.
Still, the threats and effects of littered plastic bags on marine environments seem too great to negate in terms of argumentation, even if the statistics about their effects on marine animals are hard to trace.
In the USA, there’s been a surge in bag bans, and Don Loepp’s recent Plastics News blog has some interesting comments related to the trend. With Seattle becoming the third-largest U.S. city to ban single-use plastics carryout bags, Loepp cites efforts by plastics industry organizations toward reversing this trend, asking: “is it too late?”
PS-- Also check out Loepp's second part of his bag-ban blog mentioned above. Here he links the issue to recycling & biodegradability, showing the inherent complexity of this issue.
Mike Tolinski is the author of Plastics and Sustainability, published in Oct. 2011 by Wiley-Scrivener, and he is Contributing Editor for Plastics Engineering magazine of the Society of Plastics Engineers in the USA. His views have been shaped by his engineering, university, and journalism experience in the plastics and manufacturing industries over the past 21 years.