Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

People Are Increasingly Questioning Plastic Bag Bans

Recently, there have been more online articles and blog posts questioning the arguments for plastic bag bans and the bans themselves. People finally may be learning the facts and seeing that the bag bans are an emotionally-based, feel-good, but misguided fad. Here are excerpts from three recent articles on that subject, written from different viewpoints, that call out many of the reasons bag bans are useless, and even dangerous.Recycled plastic bags image

Protector of the seas

In his article “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Plastics Bag Debate” on the Fox & Hounds website, Capt. Tim Wright, a retired ship’s captain for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) brought his long experience in oceanic and atmospheric science to bear on the purported impact of plastic bags on marine environments.

“The truth is plastic bags have very little impact on the oceans,” he says. He reminds us that the frequently mentioned Great Pacific Garbage Patch simply does not exist. He cites an Oregon State University study that says, “…if we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration (of plastic) ever recorded…the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line.”

Capt. Wright is staunchly pro-environment: ” Much of my career was spent researching and protecting our oceans, and their preservation is a priority we all share. Facts—not emotion—should be the basis of this and all environmental debates.”Recycled plastic bags image

Veteran journalist

Ramesh Ponnuru, who for the past 18 years has covered national politics for the National Review, published “The Disgusting Consequences of Plastic-Bag Bans” on the Bloomberg Network. He is concerned about the news reports linking reusable shopping bags to the spread of the disease.

He cites as an example this from the Los Angeles Times last May: “A reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea that struck nine of 13 members of a girls’ soccer team in October, Oregon researchers reported Wednesday.” He notes that warnings of disease may seem like a scare tactic, but research suggests there’s more than anecdote behind this industry talking point.

He writes: “In a 2011 study, four researchers examined reusable bags in California and Arizona and found that 51 percent of them contained coliform bacteria. The problem appears to be the habits

of the reusers. Seventy-five percent said they keep meat and vegetables in the same bag. When bags were stored in hot car trunks for two hours, the bacteria grew tenfold. That study also found, happily, that washing the bags eliminated 99.9 percent of the bacteria. It undercut even that good news, though, by finding that 97 percent of people reported that they never wash their bags.”

Ponnuru concludes by noting that the study authors argue against the idea that regular washing and drying of the reusable bags would solve the problem. The hot water and detergent used will impact the environment. It takes more energy to make a reusable bag than a plastic one. “The stronger argument, it seems to me,” he says, “is that 97 percent figure: Whatever the merits of regularly cleaning the bags, it doesn’t appear likely to happen.”

His recommendation: “The best course for government, then, is probably to encourage people to recycle their plastic bags — or, maybe, just let people make their own decisions.”Recycled plastic bags image

Undergrad physics


Alex Abelson, author of the article “Plastic bag ban not environmentally advantageous” in the Daily Barometer of Oregon State University, begins with a seemingly rhetorical question:  “While the newly enacted Corvallis plastic bag ban may be another example of government’s intrusion into consumer choices, we can at least agree that it is beneficial for the environment, right? Well, maybe not.”

Abelson says the energy comparison of paper and plastic bags shows paper is not more beneficial for the environment, and that nearly twice as many barrels of oil are needed to produce the same number of paper bags as plastic ones. He writes forcefully about the difference between choosing to do something, for example not using a plastic bag, and being forced to not use one.

“I have been a reusable bag guy for a couple of years now,” he says, “simply because it doesn’t make sense to waste plastic or paper. There are, however, some cases where plastic bags come in handy.” He says a Corvallis business can be fined $2,500 for not charging for a bag or for selling a plastic bag.

One might think the city’s revenues need a boost.

Abelson makes clear that he is not anti-environmentalist: “I truly believe there is no more important issue than our Mother Earth, after that of our natural human rights. What we need are education and economically viable alternatives, not government force. Anyone who is convinced to do something through reason is much happier than if coerced through force.”

He favors personal responsibility and free choice, and does not lack a sense of humor: “While living in a world full of gas-fueled cars and coal-generated electricity, this unnecessary law is akin to cleaning the ocean with a dirty aquarium filter. Let us focus on the real issues affecting the environment, and convince those who are unsure of the necessity for change through reason and fact.”

Each of these articles is worth reading in full, and is brief. Each makes the case for rational, fact-based choices, rather than celebrity appearances and emotion seen in support of bag bans, which will solve neither the real problem of littering nor create an adequate recycling infrastructure and the will to use it.

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