Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Chicago Plastic Bag Ban Leaves Consumers Holding the (paper) Bag

By Michael Salmon, Public Affairs Manager

Families in Chicago, plastics industry workers and consumers will be impacted after the City Council passed a partial plastic bag ban on April 30, forcing many city businesses to go back to the more expensive and heavier paper bags, which are not as environmentally friendly as once thought.

By banning plastic bags, consumers in Chicago and other cities where plastic bags have or will be banned in the future will be going back to heavier and bulkier paper bags or reusable bags. In addition to the job loss associated with a ban on plastic bags, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, is also concerned about replacing plastic with paper and reusable bags that are not consumer and environmentally friendly.

Here are some facts about paper, as reported by the American Progressive Bag Alliance:

Less material means less waste and fewer emissions.

  • Plastic bags generate 80% less waste than paper bags.
  • Plastic bags generate only 50% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of composted paper bags.
  • The production of plastic bags consumes less than 4% of the water needed to make paper bags.
  • A typical plastic bag weighs 4-5 grams and can hold up to 17 pounds—nearly 2,000 times its own weight.
  • Plastic grocery bags require 70% less energy to manufacture than paper bags, and produce half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
  • Plastic bags take up 85 percent less space than paper bags in landfills.
  • During their life cycle, plastic bags require about one-third less energy to make than paper bags. Plastic grocery bags are an extremely resource-efficient multi-use plastic bag choice.
  • For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same number of plastic bags, helping to save energy and reduce emissions.
  • It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it does to recycle a pound of paper.
  • By using plastics in their packaging, product manufacturers save enough energy every year to power a city of 1 million homes for 3-1/2 years.

In addition to recycling, a recent national survey shows that over 90% of Americans reuse their plastic bags. About 65% of Americans reuse their bags for trash disposal. Other common uses include lunch bags and pet pick-up. In this regard, the reuse of a plastic shopping bag prevents a second bag from being purchased to fulfill these necessary functions.   These replacement bags are often thicker, bigger and intended to go to the landfill, meaning the unintended consequence is that more plastic is going into the landfill.

A look at other areas in the country where rules on plastic bags were implemented recently shows that bans and taxes don’t work.

  • A ban or tax would make no difference in litter reduction since plastic bags only make up a tiny fraction (less than 0.5 percent) of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream.
  • In October 2010 along North Carolina’s Outer Banks area, the North Carolina Solid Waste and Management Annual Report for FY 2010-2011 reported that a correlation between the law and the number of bags collected is not apparent.
  • According to a study from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a ban on plastic bags can negatively impact retail sales in the ban area as well, shifting business to stores just outside the bag ban region. For example, in Los Angeles County, a survey taken one year after a plastic bag band was implemented revealed that the majority of stores surveyed in areas with a ban reported an overall average sales decline of nearly 6 percent while the majority of respondents surveyed in areas without a ban reported an overall average sales growth of 9 percent.

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