Friday, February 8th, 2013

Add Lower Sales, Job Losses to Consequences of Bag Bans

This has been a good week for rationality in the discussion of whether plastic bag bans are an effective solution to the problems they seek to address—waste and littering—or an emotionally driven distraction that resembles trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.

I stand with those seeking a comprehensive long-term solution centered on the Three Rs: Reducing, Reusing and Recycling of all materials. I’m open to other solutions, but we have to think bigger than banning lightweight plastic shopping bags that are, at most, one percent of our litter, and easyily recycled.

This week has seen a spike in articles and blog posts discussing the futility of bag bans and their unintended and often dangerous consequences. The spike began with the release of a research study of San Francisco hospital emergency room records following implementation of that city’s initial plastic bag ban in 2007.

The research, which was done by two law school professors, showed that illnesses related to E. Coli and other bacterial infections increased noticeably after the bag ban went into effect. Deaths resulting from such illnesses also increased, by 46 percent, which equates to 5.5 people per year.

The health hazard issue grew legs quickly thanks to a column on the Bloomberg website written by Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review who had seen the San Francisco study.

Bloomberg’s website has millions of viewers, and a number

of them reacted to Ponnuru’s article, “The Disgusting Consequences of Plastic-Bag Bans,” with blog posts of their own. In Internet-speak, that’s known as going viral, which all too appropriate when discussing people made ill and even dying from bacterial infections. The infections are generally attributed to the reusable bags that bag-ban activists generally suggest to replace plastic sacks.

Meanwhile, PlasticToday’s Heather Caliendo was in the midst of publishing an in-depth, three-part series on the subject of plastic bag bans. This past Wednesday, the day after the third part of the series appeared, she authored another article, “The economic effect of plastic bag bans,” offering a different set of reasons to look closely at bag bans.

Caliendo reported on a study conducted in Los Angeles County (bag ban begun July 2011) by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). She writes: “During a one-year period, before and after the ban, the majority of stores surveyed in areas with

a ban reported an overall average sales decline of nearly 6%. While the majority of respondents surveyed in areas without a ban reported an overall average sales growth of 9%.”

The study shows shoppers chose to shop at stores in areas not covered by the ban. Pamela Villareal of NCPA told PlasticsToday, “What we suspect is people that live in an area under a bag ban, but are in close proximity to an area without one, will ‘vote with their feet’. We often hear that people oppose plastic bags, but it sure does look like a lot of people do like them.”

The negative impact on store revenue in bag ban areas is not the only collateral economic damage. The survey says stores in the bag ban area experienced a 10 percent reduction in employment, while employment in stores outside that area rose slightly. NCPA’s Villarreal says, “When you think about the unemployment rate in this country, any negative impact on employment is something to take notice of.”

Speaking of jobs, plastic bag makers and recyclers employ more than 30,000 workers in 349 communities across the U.S. according to the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), which represents the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector. Donna Dempsey of APBA told Caliendo, “We wish we were spending our resources in investing in more American manufacturing jobs and greener recycling technologies, but instead we have to work on correcting the misinformation that is out there. We make sure all our information is scientific and fact based, as we deal with science versus emotions.”

Yes folks, it is science, research and facts versus emotions, particularly fear, and those who stoke that emotion for their own purposes, including the mass media. It’s good to see that more rational people, after looking at the facts of this issue, are seeing through the emotional smokescreen generated by the bag ban activists. Let’s hope that more people see the facts and want to take action. It would great to see facts go viral on the Internet for a change.

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