Thursday, August 13th, 2015

What Got Buried in the Plastic Bag News The Last Two Weeks

The media makes a regular habit of writing articles about plastic bag bans and taxes, but details regarding the negative effects of these ordinances on residents, retailers and other businesses – and the often anti-democratic means by which these measures are enacted – tend to get buried below the fold. Here’s what you might’ve missed in the past couple of weeks:

Plastic-Bags-Closeup-260w-Chicago, Illinois implemented its bag ban on August 1, and a few articles took note of the negative effects this ordinance has had and will continue to have on local businesses – particularly small ones. An article in Crain’s noted that one area employer, BioStar Films, and its Wheeling, Ill.-based sister company, Aargus Plastics, do approximately 35 percent of their business in Chicago, and that while they’ll be able to adapt to meet the city’s specific requirements, losses will be impossible to avoid. “We are going to have to end up making less product,” the article quotes Scott Starr, Biostar Films and Aargus Plastics vice president, as saying. “If we have to reduce the amount of output, then we are going to end up eventually reducing employees.” Starr also was quoted in a Daily Herald article about the same issues and about the misinformation that has led people to believe that bag bans are good for the environment.

BioStar Films employs about 100 people, so while “big plastic” catches the brunt of the vitriol from bag ban and tax proponents, more attention should be paid to the effects these ordinances have on “small plastic” – the companies that can’t afford to keep their employees on staff because of poorly-considered legislation.

-Roughly 400 miles northwest of Chicago, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an article ran in the Star Tribune under the byline of its editorial board, urging the City Council to “proceed with caution” on a proposed plastic bag ban. Though the board eventually stated its general support for bag bans, it also highlighted “legitimate concerns” raised by local retailers about a host of issues.  That includes the dangers of local vs. state regulation; increased costs to businesses that lead to increased costs for consumers (paper bags cost far more to provide than plastic); and the not-insignificant fact that “paper bags take more energy to produce.” Even bag ban supporters admit that bag bans have economic and environmental impacts that are not wholly positive.

Bag2Bag-in-store-160w-Elsewhere in the U.S., at least one municipal governing body appeared poised to, if anything, let voters decide whether to enact a local plastic bag ordinance. The Ordinance Committee of the Town Council of Freeport, Maine decided it needed more data – on plastic bags, paper bags and the economic impact of a ban or tax – before deciding whether to move forward with regulation. Additionally, Ordinance Committee Chair Sarah Tracy noted that any ordinance should have the support of residents before becoming law, with The Forecaster quoting Tracy as saying, “I think it’s important to make sure it’s supported by the town.” The Tri-Town Weekly also quoted Tracy as saying that the plastic bags issue is “not a slam dunk” and cited figures provided to the Ordinance Committee by the American Progressive Bag Alliance’s Mindi Mebane, who said, “For one thing…a 2014 Rhode Island study showed that plastic bags account for 1.2 percent of the litter stream in New England. And the Environmental Protection Agency says that plastic bags constitute 0.4 percent of the municipal solid waste in the country,” according to the article.

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