Plastic Bag Ban Will Put Los Angeles In Landfill

Proposal would provide no environmental benefits and deepen city’s economic depression.

There’s a crisis in Los Angeles. Is it the city’s projected $250 million budget deficit? The city’s $10 billion shortfall in pension obligations? Its crumbling infrastructure? A public school dropout rate approaching 50 percent? No, the City of Angels is facing catastrophe in the form of grocery bags.  

So great is the menace that the City Council is poised to impose on the good people of Los Angeles the country’s strictest grocery bag ban, prohibiting the distribution of both plastic and paper bags. 

Proponents give three reasons for the bag ban. They claim it will reduce the amount of waste entering landfills, reduce litter on streets, and “help protect the environment.”

But banning free grocery bags will not achieve those lofty goals. 

First, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t reduce waste. California’s Statewide Waste Characterization Study [pdf] shows that “Plastic Grocery and Other Merchandise Bags” consistently make up just 0.3 percent of the waste stream in the state. That’s three-tenths of 1 percent. In comparison, organic waste such as food and yard clippings makes up 32 percent while construction debris comprises about 30 percent. The effect of eliminating free grocery bags on the amount of waste generated in the city would be insignificant.

Second, despite misleading claims from environmental groups and the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t do much to reduce litter in the public commons. Litter studies from across the country demonstrate that, on average, plastic retail bags make up about 1 percent to 2 percent of all litter. 

Even that small amount of litter doesn’t decline when bans are enacted. In San Francisco, plastic bags comprised 0.6 percent of litter before the city banned plastic bags and 0.64 percent a year after the ban took effect [pdf, pg. 35]. Since plastic grocery bags make up less than 2 percent of roadside trash, banning them will affect neither the total amount of litter nor the cost of cleaning it up.

Third, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t reduce our consumption of foreign (or domestic) oil. L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation claims [pdf] that “approximately 12 million barrels of oil go into the US supply of plastic bags.” But plastic bags made in the U.S. are not derived from oil; they’re made from a byproduct of domestic natural gas refinement. Manufacturing plastic grocery bags does not increase our need to import oil, and banning them in Los Angeles or anywhere else will not reduce US oil consumption.

Despite claims that plastics threaten our oceans and sea life, there is no evidence that free plastic grocery bags make up any significant portion of the plastic waste found on beaches or in the ocean. In fact, reports from environmental groups doing beach and ocean clean-ups show that plastic bags make up only about 2 percent of the debris.

Furthermore, reusable bags being touted as a “green” alternative carry their own environmental costs.  Unlike locally manufactured plastic bags, reusable woven bags are primarily produced in China and imported to the U.S. on cargo ships which burn millions of gallons of dirty low-grade fuel oil. Because they’re made of mixed materials, these reusable bags can’t be recycled and will eventually end up in landfills, unlike plastic grocery bags which are fully recyclable. 

Bags made of canvas have an even greater impact on the environment due to the natural resources required to grow cotton and manufacture bags. Frequently, reusable bags often carry more than just groceries. In a recent study by the University of Arizona, almost every bag sampled contained large amounts of bacteria including coliform, E. coli, and other opportunistic pathogens. The public is being instructed to wash these bags after each use, which, over time, will require huge amounts of energy and waste precious water. 

So if banning free plastic grocery bags won’t save the planet, what will it do? For one thing, it will lead to the loss of American jobs. More than 30,000 people in the U.S. are directly employed by the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry, and thousands more are indirectly employed. 

If passed, the L.A. bag ban could potentially lead to the loss of manufacturing jobs that support more than 1,000 families in the Los Angeles area alone, according to Pete Grande, CEO at Command Packaging, a recycler and producer of environmentally friendly plastic bags.

Where patrons have the option to shop in communities without bag bans, that’s exactly what they choose to do. According to Sid Marantz, Program Director for Marantz & Associates, a local provider of grocery store supplies, after Los Angeles County imposed a plastic bag ban in unincorporated areas, shoppers simply went elsewhere and merchants unlucky enough to be located where the ban was imposed have seen a significant decline in business.

The ban on both paper and plastic would also directly lead to a loss of economic activity. With no choice other than to carry stacks of reusable bags or purchase unneeded extra bags, shoppers will have less money for shopping. The 90 percent of the population who now reuse free plastic grocery bags for trash and pet waste will have to buy replacements, depressing their discretionary income.

But the real crisis—the one that rarely gets discussed—is that these types of bans require another public acceptance of total government intrusion into our lives. Is it a legitimate role of government to prohibit one individual from giving a free bag to another individual on the pretext of a supposed societal benefit that does not withstand even friendly scrutiny? Doesn’t every human interaction, no matter how small, have some arguable effect on society?  And if so, what’s to prevent those who seek to dictate how everyone lives from invoking that argument at every turn? The crisis in Los Angeles and around the country is that too few people are asking those questions.

Jay Beeber is a filmmaker and activist living in Los Angeles.

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  • sarcasmic||

    What will they do when people get sick from not cleaning their reusable bags?

    http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Heal.....ag-120510/

    Will they ban them too?

  • John||

    I had a huge fight with my wife about this. She buys into the some of the green recycling bullshit. Those bags are nothing but germ factories.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    A canvas cloth bag that readily soaks up moisture, mildew, mold and likely many other things is less safe than a plastic bag? Who could have guessed?

  • sarcasmic||

    On the one hand I like the reusable bags because they hold more stuff, are more stable, and take up less room in the back of the car. However I rarely remember them. Even if they make it into the car, they usually stay behind, forgotten, in the parking lot.

    However I use both paper and plastic bags at home for all kinds of things.

    As far as germs go, it's nothing a can of aerosol antiseptic can't solve.

  • ||

    I use the reusable bags too because they are far easier to carry and you don't have to worry about them breaking. When they get gross I throw them out.

  • Tman||

    Show her the Penn and Teller Bullshit! episode on recycling. It's worked on a few folks I know...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZTrJi9l3CM

  • John||

    I have known recycling was a scam since I was an environmental lawyer. Even the green activists I knew back in the 1990s admitted it was a waste of time.

  • Pro Libertate||

    When I was in the paper business, it was an open secret that "recycled" paper was much worse for the environment than the kind made from trees.

  • John||

    The trees come from farms. They are fast growing. You cut them down and a couple of years later a whole new crop has grown back. They are in every sense of the word "renewable". But these dimwits actually think they cut down California redwoods to make newsprint.

  • Nicholas Card||

    Down with old growth forests so us big-business corporate fatcats have some fancy paper to print derivatives so that we can hoard the trickle-up wealth!

  • BakedPenguin||

  • sarcasmic||

    The point of recycling is not economics.
    It's about feeling good about yourself for not putting stuff into landfills.
    (I say this unable to get to youtube)

  • Killazontherun||

    You are going to risk pissing off Ken if you ridicule the sacraments made to his failed God, John.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Not saying those bags aren't germ factories, but the article jumped to a lot of conclusions. As one commenter said, where do you keep your toothbrush?

    You're more likely to pick up shit from the non-bathing (why waste water?), piss-non-flushing, neck-bearded greenie at the grocery store who happened to touch the produce you wound up purchasing 10 minutes later.

  • Invisible Finger||

    And I'd bet a lot of the problem is these germ-free people are now being exposes to germs. My grandmother re-used shopping bags in the 50's and 60's. But we didn't live germ-free lives back then so our bodies could fight such things.

  • ||

    I'm sorry, but I'm not reading any article by Justin Beeber.

  • Nephilium||

    The reusable bags have one big advantage, they work well in containing and carrying several growlers of beer simultaneously. I have one that was able to hold three growlers with no strain.

  • juris imprudent||

    Thread winner!

  • Scott S.||

    I cannot even imagine how much dog poop is going to be left all over my block if those bags get banned.

  • Wholly Holy Cow||

    No one is going to comply with this 'ban.' No one is planning to comply. It's foolish, shortsighted and stupid, a.k.a. it's pure leftism.

    There's no mechanisms for punishment and enforcement of this 'law.' None. It's purely a PR stunt.

    Read the wording. It specially states plastic bags won't be "available at checkout areas." So what? Doesn't mean stores can't place plastic bags somewhere else in the store for you to grab while shopping and then use after purchasing.

    Doesn't state that checker-outers and grocery bag fillers can't send you away with your stuff in plastic bags. Nope. Just says plastic bags won't be available at the checkout area. Really? What constitutes a checkout area legally? That's a big vague and unworkable. Purposefully so.

    It's a PR stunt.

  • yonemoto||

    MAD, MAD props for the "storytelling" reference

  • albo||

    I love it when the diesel-smoke-belching 10-tone garbage truck stops to pick up my recycling bucked full of 2 pounds of plastic and aluminum every week. Recycling makes me feel so warm and noble inside.

    will require huge amounts of energy and waste precious water.

    Energy, sure, but not wasting water. A washing machine is just temporarily diverting the water from where it was before to where it was going next.

  • Nicholas Card||

    This.

    I don't understand how we can be so ignorant to keep propagating the myth that you can "waste water." Almost no process that uses water actually uses it as a reactant, and even if it did, it's not like we're hurting for water.

    When I turn on my sink and let the water run, I'm not really paying for water. I'm paying for the energy to clean and transport the water.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Hey! We only have about 36 sextillion gallons of water on this planet, guy.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And there's more where that came from. Comets, Saturn's rings, a few bodies made of ice orbiting planets, etc.

  • juris imprudent||

    Wouldn't death stills be more economic?

  • SFC B||

    I love it when the diesel-smoke-belching 10-tone garbage truck stops to pick up my recycling bucked full of 2 pounds of plastic and aluminum every week. Recycling makes me feel so warm and noble inside.

    I was on the phone w/ a friend the other night and she was lamenting that one of the drawbacks to the new apartment she is moving in to is that it doesn't offer curbside recycling. I mansplained to her that it is to her benefit, and that there is no way the few thousand pounds of material that is collected each week comes close to offsetting the damage done by building, operating, and maintaining the vehicles used to collect the recyclables.

  • ||

    Get ready for an explosion in the feral cat population. No plastic bags, no cat litter pick-up, no more home for Mittens. At least the rat population will suffer.

  • ||

    The ban on Oahu that just passed ban "non-recyclable" plastic bags. Which conveniently means that the only supplier of these bags, a local company, gets to use government to forcibly eliminate the lower-priced competition from the Mainland.

    I'm guessing that local company bribed some politicians to gain this (temporary) monopoly, but too busy to drive down to the Campaign Spending Commission and confirm.

  • l0b0t||

    My local supermarkets here in NYC use a (gasp) free market mechanism to encourage me to bring my own bags. They give a discount ($0.05 - $0.10) for every bag I bring from home. Sometimes carrots are better than sticks.

  • TomG||

    Shouldn't all the people concerned about global warming welcome non-degradable plastic bags in landfills? They are a cheap and effective way of capturing carbon! If oil is turned into plastic buried in a landfill, it can't end up in the atmosphere!

  • Ed Zeppelin||

    Look- the sooner we cut down the forests and round up the animals, the sooner we can start paving everything.

    And then we'll stripe it all.

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  • ||

    Are they recyclable?

  • ||

    ZZ Top rules.

  • joy||

    In comparison, organic waste such as food and yard clippings makes up 32 percent while construction debris comprises about 30 percent. http://www.riemeninnl.com/riem.....-c-20.html The effect of eliminating free grocery bags on the amount of waste generated in the city would be insignificant.

  • sweeterjan||

    iscussed—is that these types http://www.vendreshox.com/nike-shox-tl3-c-13.html of bans require another public acceptance of total government intrusion into our lives. Is it a legitimate role of government to prohibit one indiv

  • justamom||

    I live near a filthy recycling plant. Big dirty trucks roll in, the smoke is horrible. We have to pass it every day in what used to be a nice little collection of homes that are now trashed. I want to see a cost comparison...surely it is not worth it!!

  • EasyEight||

    I live in San Jose, CA where they banned all disposable paper and plastic bags (except for fast food/take-out -- why that exception??). This ban was passed despite almost ZERO public support or demand, the city bureaucrats simply went through the motions of "public input" as a check-box exercise and passed it because (as one city worker said) they wanted to "save the planet, one bag at a time) supported by the Green lobby.

    I've spoken with some retail store managers since the ban, and they report sales reductions over and above the economy -- especially last minute items. People are entering the store with their re-useable bags, and buy just enough to fill them and no more. They wish now they'd been active in opposing this bag ban.

    So if you can, if your city is considering it -- ACT!! Block it, rally local business and public support and keep the ban away from your town!!

    MORONS, DOLTS AND IMBECILES!!! They want to do the ban ‘cause it’ll help the environment and force US to adapt to THEIR green worldview without any thought to the repercussions of their policies. The ban is baked in the cake, the public hearings are a complete sham. The job losses and economic impacts, however, will be real.

  • ||

    But it's plastic! That makes it corporate evil!

    My local park here in the People's Republic of Austin has free plastic bags available for dogshit pickup. They're a nice green color which encourages disposal along the trail. They're touted as "biodegradable," but who the hell knows what that means? Aerobic or anaerobic? Landfill or sunlight? But hey, the city contracted a "green" firm to provide them, while at the same time banning the same bags at the grocery store.

  • justamom||

    Don't you love how, if something is painted green, it is biodegradable, healthy, wonderful!

  • Apparently a 'statist'||

    I support government intrusion for the sake of the local and global environment (because I want to live in a dystopia and I hate the successful), but I don't like gimmickry.

  • caseym54||

    So, can a citizen pass out free plastic bags outside supermarkets? Perhaps printed with "Defeat Councilman ______" just before the 2013 city council elections?

    Or is possession of plastic bags illegal? Distribution with intent to speak?

    And how about a referendum? It takes maybe 30K signatures.

  • joy||

    The 90 percent of the population who now reuse free plastic grocery bags for trash and pet waste will have to buy replacements, depressing their discretionary income.
    http://www.nikewinkel.com/scho.....-c-36.html

  • f.alahmadi||

    Banning the plastic bags will not reduce a huge amount of the total waste, if the statistics that the author used are correct. The study was done in 2008 and city staff said the plastic is 19 percent of the total waste. If the government wants to ban the plastic bags they should find another alternative since the reusable bags harms people. Also, they should consider the 1,000 families who may lose their job. I think they should not ban the plastic bag and help the environment by reducing the waste of something else such as organic or construction waste. Also, before banning the plastic we should look to the other cities that banned the plastic bags and do more study before taking actions.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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