Hey, California! Want to Conserve Water? Then Don’t Ban Plastic Bags.

Enemy of the stateCredit: T Gibbison / Foter / CC BY-NC-SACalifornia is attempting once again to ban plastic grocery bags statewide. SB 270 would require all grocery stores, liquor stores and pharmacies to offer reusable bags or recycled paper bags instead. It’s been well-established that bag bans will barely make any dent at all in the state’s waste make-up or fix litter problems. Even a company that produces reusable bags and hates plastic bags thinks a bag ban is a bad idea, because it’s “an emotional response which fails to strike at the heart of the issue; instead of a market-based solution, a ban shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which have heavy environmental consequences.”

California is also in the middle of a drought so severe that Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to discourage people from flushing the toilet. Californians are urged to cut water consumption by 20 percent and rural communities are in potential danger of running out.

We have a contradiction in environmental goals. If Californians do switch to reusable bags, in order to use them safely, the bags will need to be washed regularly, increasing residents’ water consumption. Here’s the full list of tips from the state’s Department of Public Health (pdf) when turning to reusable grocery bags:

At home:

  • Reusable grocery bags should be machine or hand-washed frequently! Dry the bags in a clothes dryer or allow them to air dry.
  • After putting groceries away, clean the areas where the bags were placed while
  • unbagging your groceries, especially the kitchen counter and the kitchen table where food items may later be prepared or served.
  • If food residues from any food products have leaked into the bag, make sure to wash and dry the bag thoroughly before reuse.
  • If reusable grocery bags have been used to transport non-food items, such as detergents, household cleaners, and other chemicals, wash and dry the bags before using them to transport food items. Alternatively, you may wish to use bags of one color for food items and bags of a different color for non-food items.
  • Store grocery bags away from sources of contamination, such as pets, children,and chemicals. Storing reusable grocery bags in the trunk of cars is not recommended. During the warmer months, the increased temperatures can promote the growth of bacteria that may be present on the bags. 

At the store:

  • Place reusable bags on the bottom shelf of the grocery cart (below the cart basket where food products are placed).
  • When selecting packages of meat, poultry, or fish, consider putting the packages in clear plastic bags (often available in the meat and produce sections) to prevent leaking juices from contaminating other food items and the reusable grocery bags.
  • Fresh produce should be placed in clear plastic bags to help protect the items from contamination.
  • At checkout, do not place reusable grocery bags on the conveyor belt. Hand the bags to the checker/bagger or, if self-bagging, carry the bags to the bagging area at the end of the checkout counter.
  • Meat, poultry, and fish should be placed in separate reusable bags from fresh produce and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Non-food items should be placed in separate reusable bags from food products

There’s quite a bit of cleaning and water consumption suggested by the state itself (and note the recommendation of single-use plastic bags!). But does it add up to much? A researcher at California State University, Chico, assessed the energy consumption, waste production and water use involved over the lifetime of various types of bags (pdf). The results vary, but for certain types of reusable plastic bags, their manufacture and use over the course of a year will consume four times as much water as the same number of single-use plastic bags.  The trade-off is that the reuse of the bag reduces waste and energy consumption in other areas.

Paper bags, by the way, are an awful alternative for anybody wanting to conserve water. The manufacture of single-use paper bags uses 17 times the amount of water as single-use plastic bags. The bags they’re offering in grocery stores in Los Angeles, for example, may not have been made in California, so they may not be adding to the state’s drought woes. Still, though, nobody who is actually in favor of conservation should support paper bags over single-use plastic bags.

The larger point, other than plastic bag bans being poorly considered manifestations of green populism, is that priorities matter in environmental regulation. The state of California’s water supply is much more important than its consumption of plastic bags. Going for a state-wide ban on plastic bags runs counter to the state’s need to conserve water.

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  • Winston||

    Becomes modern progressivism is contradictory bullshit? The old progs were big believers in the superiority of Industrial Western Civilization and its ability to produce TOP. MEN who needed to impose their will on everyone while modern progs hate Industrial Western Civ yet still believe it can produce TOP. MEN. who will have to impose their will on everyone.

  • Square||

    The new progs don't look to Top Men - they look to Aboriginal Women, since the Top Men thing led to tyranny and war, etc., etc. Therefore, the opposite must be the key to everything.

    The people pushing the bag ban are the people who dress in nothing but hand-woven natural fabric clothes from Guatemala and wear patchouli oil because its more "natural" than industrial products.

  • BuSab Agent||

    Gods I hate the smell of patchouli!

  • ||

  • Hugh Akston||

    If Moonbeam really wants to discourage people from flushing, he should mandate that all new toilets have his face color-etched into the bowl so that people will remember not to flush.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Here’s the full list of tips

    jesus tapdancing christ.

  • Square||

    Watching this whole bag thing develop has been comical from the get go. I live quite near Berkeley and have spent a fair amount of time there, and I remember about 20 years ago when this bag issue first came up Berkeley Greens were practically factionalized over whether the plastic bags were the most evil because, you know, plastic, or whether the paper bags were more evil because, you know, tree killing.

    RENEWABLE RESOURCES! STOP KILLING THE TREES!

    I feel like I even remember people at the time mentioning the washing-a-reusable-bag-in-a-drought-prone-state thing at the time, but it may be a "recovered" memory.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Circling

    the

    drain.

  • Almanian (yeah, I said it)||

    WAY TO WASTE WATER, PB.

  • CE||

    No one ever washes those bags anyway. Hippies load 'em up at Whole Foods, and the organisms living on the bag yell "lunch time!"

  • Almanian (yeah, I said it)||

    This is true. We've accumulated about 1000 of the fabric bags (my faves are the Sainsbury bags from our trips to Glasgow). Some you CAN'T wash very well b/c of the PLASTIC they're made from (we found out through experience), and mostly we're just too lazy too bother.

    So - fewer plastic bags, and probably a surprise norovirus, salmonella, influenza, e-coli and/or other nasty virus/bacterium in our future...I LOVE SURPRISES!

  • Scott S.||

    I'm going with the paper bags, and since I have to buy plastic bags now anyway to clean up after the dog, I am actively making the planet worse than I was before the ban.

  • pan fried wylie||

    "We're banning the plastic poop bags too. You totally won't mind the dog shit seeping through the paper replacements."

  • PapayaSF||

    There was a study a while back, which I am too lazy to look up, that showed that ER admittances and deaths for food-borne illnesses went up in San Francisco after the bag ban. IIRC it was about 5 deaths a year. Gaia needs sacrifices, I guess.

  • Scott S.||

    So what you're saying is that it also helps fight overpopulation, right?

  • PapayaSF||

    A little PC Social Darwinism in SF. If you are dumb enough to put a leaky hamburger package in your grocery bag, then leave it in the trunk for a week, then drop apples into it, and eat them without washing them, then it's bye-bye for you.

  • amelia||

    I bought plastic poopie bags to use for the cat box. I got some that are larger than most of the dog poo bags so I can more easily fit the cat scoop into the opening. They were $7 for 15 bags. And the opening is still a bit too small. Makes it awkward and inefficient to get the waste into the bag and of course, this leads to spillage onto the floor. So I'll be purchasing the 10 cents plastic bags any time I get an opportunity.

    The grocery bag ban makes impromptu stops at the store very inconvenient if I don't have bags in my trunk. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've had clerks at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's suggest I keep my plastic grocery bags in the trunk of my car so they are there when I need them. From now on, I'll direct them to the DPH website for important information on reducing food borne illnesses.

    What a stupid state I live in.

  • RishJoMo||

    Soiunds like a pretty serious plan, I like it.

    www.AnonStuffz.tk

  • Herb||

    This is the weakest argument I have ever heard against plastic bag bans. Surely you've heard of wastewater treatment...

    No wonder the bans are becoming more common and widespread. Obviously we need a better argument. Back to the drawing board, I guess.

  • Redmanfms||

    Uh, what?

    Requiring people to use bags that must be washed to be safe increases water usage. In a state with a water shortage people needing to add another item to launder sort of (well, completely) defeats the purpose of reducing consumption.

    Did you even read the fucking article?

  • Herb||

    Did you even read my fucking comment?

    Do you know anything about wastewater treatment?

    Do you realize that when the water circles down the drain that it doesn't actually disappear, never to be seen again.

    It gets recycled just like the plastic from plastic bags.

    In other words, "reusable bags wastes water" is as made-up a problem as "all plastic bags end up in a landfill."

  • Redmanfms||

    Did you even read my fucking comment?

    Yeah I did.

    You clearly haven't the vaguest clue how municipal water systems work.

    As far as the municipality is concerned, once that water is delivered to the customer it is no longer usable. Once it's treated it gets dumped into the watershed. Since the water used in California comes mostly from ground sources and reservoirs it doesn't get "recycled" after it is treated, the effluent just makes it way to the Pacific.

    So, policies that require greater water usage are unwise if a water shortage is a problem. The increase in water consumption is likely marginal, but it does point out how bad government environmental policies conflict. It is also not the only argument being made against the bans, use the search function.

    Now, little man, go up to the fucking article and read the fucking pdf linked in the fucking article.

  • Herb||

    I see you did some Googling. I suppose you think that makes you smart. Happy to contribute to your education, genius.

    I will just quote you back: "The increase in water consumption is likely marginal"

    No shit? So I guess we're not really going to be conserving water by sticking with plastic bags then...

    I can think of a million and one reasons not to ban plastic bags. "Conserving water" ain't one of em.

  • Redmanfms||

    I see you did some Googling. I suppose you think that makes you smart. Happy to contribute to your education, genius.

    I worked in water treatment.

    I'm not a "genius" but I do know what the fuck I'm talking about. You should try it sometime. Who knows, being in a position where you aren't so easily demonstrated to be a fucking jackass might be better..

    No shit? So I guess we're not really going to be conserving water by sticking with plastic bags then...

    RTFA

    I can think of a million and one reasons not to ban plastic bags. "Conserving water" ain't one of em.

    Search function, fucking use it troglodyte. This isn't the only discussion there has been on this topic on Reason.

    And I'll post this again, since your reading comprehension is obviously lacking:

    The increase in water consumption is likely marginal, but it does point out how bad government environmental policies conflict. It is also not the only argument being made against the bans, use the search function.

    Read and comprende dipshit.

  • Herb||

    Oh, you worked in water treatment? Doing what, cleaning toilets?

    Must I really examine the entire corpus of work on the subject before I declare this particular (spurious and unconvincing) argument to be bunk?

    Uh, no.

    No doubt, good arguments against bans exist...somewhere else. See if you can swallow this, Bobby Boucher: This isn't one of them.

    Oh, and my reading comprehension is just fine. Lemme paraphrase you:

    "Bad government environmental policies can cause conflicts. Here's a totally dumb example that doesn't prove my point at all."

    And then let me quote the article:

    "Going for a state-wide ban on plastic bags runs counter to the state’s need to conserve water."

    Read and comprehende, indeed.

  • Redmanfms||

    Must I really examine the entire corpus of work on the subject before I declare this particular (spurious and unconvincing) argument to be bunk?

    Nope, but knowing something about the subject usually helps, especially if you are going to attempt pedantry.


    I have an idea, why don't you provide some support for your declaration of the argument being bunk?

    You know, citing sources, that sort of thing. Try it. Post up a study/link/article/whatever supporting your declaration of spuriousness.

  • Herb||

    Here's a citation for you:

    The increase in water consumption is likely marginal

    Redmanfms|2.1.14 @ 4:43AM

    If the increase in water consumption is "likely marginal," doesn't that also mean the effect "on the state’s need to conserve water" will also be marginal? Yes, why, yes it does.

    And seriously...do you really think your average crunchy Cali enviro is going to be encouraged to rethink the wisdom of plastic bag bans based on a "likely marginal increase in water consumption?"

    Or will it encourage them to push for more and stronger water restrictions elsewhere? Drain the pool. Kill the lawn. Don't flush the toilet.

    Here's the truth: Get a better argument and the enviros will make it for you.

  • DaveSs||

    Why not

    Do you really think your average crunchy Cali enviro is going to be encouraged to rethink the wisdom of plastic bag bans based on a "likely marginal decrease in landfill use?"

  • Redmanfms||

    So, you've got nothing, got it.

    Buh-bye now.

  • Edwin||

    it's all so stupid. It proves how stupid liberals are. The only serious effect plastic bags have is on drainage systems; they're more likely to clog drains. And if we do switch to paper, that's just another environmental cost that's not necessarily less bad; the water used to make paper. And then this whole washing re-usable bags thing comes in.

    Jesus tap dancing christ how piddling can you be?

  • Doug Farquhar||

    While all actions are not perfect, to suggest that we should not act I do not think is a great idea. Even a small individual action is important irrespective of its overall impact. Particularly when it comes to minimizing or eliminating our impact on the planet.

  • cheap soccer jerseys||

    "If Moonbeam really wants to discourage people from flushing, he should mandate that all new toilets have his face color-etched into the bowl so that people will remember not to flush." haha, good idea...

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