Green Room

Commentary on the LA Plastic Bag Ban

posted at 5:01 pm on June 7, 2012 by

In late May, the city of Los Angeles banned plastic bags. Pushed by Hollywood liberals who were allegedly concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of plastic bags, the ban will take place over the next year. From the LA Times (which supported the ban):

Egged on by actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and an array of environmental groups, the City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 12 months at an estimated 7,500 stores. Councilman Bernard Parks cast the lone no vote.

From another Times article:

The City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores, meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.

The phase-out discrepancy aside, the irony of it all is the utter inaccuracy of various statements by supporters of the ban. From one such individual:

“Plastic bags are an environmental and economic threat,” said Sarah Sikich, director of coastal resources for Heal the Bay. “Heal the Bay applauds Los Angeles for becoming the largest city in the nation to take a stand against plastic pollution. We hope this decision catalyzes the state of California and the rest of the nation to take action.”

There are at least three basic reasons this ban shouldn’t be in place, and certainly shouldn’t be expanded to the state and nation:

1.  Californians use 12 billion plastic bags per year, according to advocates of the ban. If this policy was expanded to the entire state, this would cost citizens $600 million per year, or over $30 per person. Is this really an ethical policy, charging people via government fiat merely to shop? Or is it more like New York’s new soda restriction proposals, where Bloomberg has said he’s not taking away freedoms even as he does so?

(Note: The cost per citizen was calculated using the following math: 12 billion divided by 2 divided by 10 divided by half of California’s 2011 population of 37,691,912.)

2.  Second, jobs could be lost. Local businesses are fighting back with a newly released ad highlighting testimony by local workers about the risk to their jobs. The ban’s supporters say no businesses have closed in Santa Monica, Calif. — which implemented a plastic-bag ban — but as one woman pointed out in the ad, the reusable bags are made in China.

3.  The environmental impact of plastic bags is debatable at best. My good friend and Just Facts President Jim Agresti recently r eported on a study related to just this subject. From his blog post:

In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency released a study that evaluated nine categories of environmental impacts caused by different types of supermarket bags. The study found that paper bags have a worse effect on the environment than plastic bags in all nine impact categories, which include global warming potential, abiotic depletion, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity, marine aquatic ecotoxicity, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and photochemical oxidation.

And later:

Critics of plastic bags frequently argue that they “take hundreds of years to decompose” . . .

Such logic ignores reality in two key respects . . .

First, modern-day landfills are generally benign because they have composite liners, clay caps, and runoff collections systems. As explained in a 1999 paper in the Journal of Environmental Engineering, modern landfills have “minimum odor nuisance,” “pose few problems after they are closed,” and “are a tribute to sanitary engineering.” Moreover, after being closed, landfills can be used for parks, commercial development, golf courses, nature conservatories, ski slopes, and airfields.

Second, even organic materials in landfills commonly take hundreds of years to decompose . . .

A study of landfills sponsored by the University of Arizona found that the tightly compacted contents of landfills create low-oxygen environments that inhibit decomposition. The details of the study were published in the book, Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage (2001), which explains that:

• “the dynamics of a landfill are very nearly the opposite of what most people think.”

• landfills “are not vast composters; rather, they are vast mummifiers.”

• “almost all the organic material” from the 1950s in a Phoenix landfill “remained readily identifiable: Pages from coloring books were still clearly that, onion parings were onion parings, carrot tops were carrot tops.”

• much of the organic material in an ancient Roman landfill that was twenty centuries old had not fully decomposed.

So, in short, the same rich Hollywood liberals who claim to want to help the environment actually may not be doing so. They also are harming the non-rich people who make plastic bags by potentially causing them to lose jobs through government-mandated outsourcing. Finally, they are pushing for legislation that would cause the little guy and gal extra money merely to get groceries for their families.

Perhaps the Occupiers are at the wrong location . . .

[Originally posted at the National Review Online Planet Gore blog.]

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The dinosaurs banned plastic bags. We all know what happened after that.

WeekendAtBernankes on June 7, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Toronto did something similar with the city putting forth a bylaw that required the stores to charge $0.05 for each bag (+13% tax). Net result, city saved an estimated $100,000 on landfill costs, while costing the people about $6,000,000 in extra costs that went to the stores as easy profit. Government math at work.

Finally sanity almost prevails, and the council eliminates the bag fee as of July 1st of this year, then turns around and bans the plastic bags as of January 1st 2013.

Unfortunately, the “reusable” bags that the stores are selling for about $2 each, generally tend to fall apart at the seams if you put anything heavy into them, hopefully you can get 40 uses out of them before they fall apart.

Canadian Imperialist Running Dog on June 7, 2012 at 5:19 PM

The activists don’t want you to use paper bags, either… they want you to use the disease-ridden canvas bags.

malclave on June 7, 2012 at 5:23 PM

All this time I thought I had a preference for paper bags as my way of flipping off the environmental elites. Killing trees so I can place my groceries in my Hemi powered gas hog and head home. Now they tell me that plastic is bad (I thought it was all wonderful and recyclable) and paper is good (I thought we went to plastic to save trees) so I have quite the quandary. I guess I will have to start carrying my groceries out in fresh animal pelts.

Mouse1 on June 7, 2012 at 5:43 PM

All my reusable shopping bags will be plastic trash bags, and each one will be used once.

I do plan to decorate them with festive stickes and glitter.

J.E. Dyer on June 7, 2012 at 5:50 PM

I reuse my plastic bags as garbage bags. As well as to pick up after my dogs.

And if I have lots of extras, I take them to the supermarket, put them in a bin where they get recycled into plastic wood.

Essentially, these do-badders (they’re not do-gooders) want me to have to buy garbage bags.

rbj on June 7, 2012 at 5:51 PM

The zealots are trying to get this every town, believe me. Check your local city council minutes!

PattyJ on June 7, 2012 at 7:33 PM

I remember the reason we all went to plastic bags in the first place was to SAVE THE TREES because we were using too many paper bags!!!

NHElle on June 7, 2012 at 8:11 PM

The adopted motion was only to approve a Citywide policy to examine a project that would ban plastic single-use carryout bags in retailers. It was not a motion to implement a ban.

scrubjay on June 8, 2012 at 1:19 AM

The point is the tax on paper bags. They use “environmental concerns” as a hook to get the people to buy into a new tax. They know people aren’t always going to have their reusable bag handy and will have to pay the paper bag tax. That’s just additional revenue for LA. It isn’t about just banning plastic, it is also about TAXING paper.

Wait till they get a massive spread of disease from the reusable bags, too. They are a great way to spread norovirus.

crosspatch on June 8, 2012 at 2:07 AM

I have an idea for a new TV show called “Bagnet” set in LA. It would be about the police who are involved in enforcing the bag ban.

zmdavid on June 8, 2012 at 7:14 AM

Canadian Imperialist Running Dog on June 7, 2012 at 5:19 PM

Yes I work in Toronto, though I live outside the city so I just hope this craziness doesn’t start spreading.

The front page of the Star today had a propaganda piece about a store in Milton,ON that has had no bags for the past 5 years and it’s just wonderful so we should shut up and love it.

CityFish on June 8, 2012 at 9:33 AM

Has anyone ever noticed that in these types of stories, the “celebraties” that are advocating are usually washed up has beens that haven’t been in anything of note in years? Julia-Louis Dreyfus? Really??? Remember Ed Bagley had that show on AlGore’s network about green lilving? Yes, the “celebrity” Ed Bagley. Ugh.

msjake on June 8, 2012 at 10:10 AM

As others have pointed out, I thought we had plastic bags now because they were more “environmentally friendly” than the old paper bags. The plastic bags were recyclable and didn’t kill trees we were told. And now the plastic bags are bad and we’re going back to paper??

And once again we see the problem with AGW and the “greenies”. The environment is a ridiculously complicated thing with FAR too many factors for us to predict anything for certain when it comes to environmental impacts. We haven’t been studying it all that long, so we don’t understand all the factors yet (we keep discovering new influences all the time that we hadn’t modelled before or didn’t work the way we thought) and the earth sciences and changes in them occur on time scales we can barely fathom and can’t effectively study in single lifetimes.

And the result is something as stupid as this. Paper is bad, use plastic! Errr… I mean… plastic is bad, use paper! Plastic and paper are bad, use mesh! Wait! Mesh is bad, and so is paper and plastic, just carry your damn ice cream in your hand!

gravityman on June 8, 2012 at 5:53 PM

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Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Allahpundit on June 8, 2012 at 11:47 PM

I take all my used plastic bags and bury them in the park.

The Notorious G.O.P on June 8, 2012 at 8:59 PM