Plastic Bag Bans Are Expensive, Ineffective, and Kinda Gross


You know what's gross? Reusable grocery bags. Think about it: You put a leaky package of chicken in your cloth or plastic tote. Then you empty the bag, crumple it up, and toss in the trunk of your car to fester. A week later, you go shopping again and throw some veggies you're planning to eat raw into the same bag. Ew.

And that's just the yuck factor. There's also an ongoing debate about the environmental and economic impact of these increasingly popular bans and taxes. Luckily, Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine, issued a new report today that looks at the issue from just about every angle. 

The report addresses my pet peeve, the health impact of reusable bags, quoting one survey in Arizona and California which found coliform bacteria in half of the bags tested. But that's just a small part of the report.

A few more fun facts:

One common justification for bans is that using less plastic means using less oil. But the lightweight plastic bags we are accustomed to using—high-density polyethylene bags—are actually made almost entirely from natural gas, not oil. Meanwhile, a popular kind of reusable totes—non-woven polypropylene (NWPP) bags—are derived from oil. 

Municipalities seem to be in a contest to claim ever-increasing percentages of their litter are attributable to plastic bags. As the report notes:

A 2006 report by the California Coastal Commission claimed that plastic bags comprise 3.8% of beach litter. More recently, a Dallas City Council memo claimed that 5% of all litter comes from plastic bags. Most dramatically, a study from the California Ocean Protection Council claimed that plastic bags of all types make up about 8% of all coastal litter. 

But the definitive American litter study—yep, such a thing exists—finds figures that are closer to 1 percent or even lower:

The Reason report also takes on storm drains, the infamous "garbage patch" in the Pacific Ocean, cost to consumers, and much more.

A complementary report released today by Reason Foundation looks at the impact of a proposed ban in California as well.

And here's a blast from the past: Yours truly in a live broadcast at The Huffington Post debating two adorable school children and some sea turtles about plastic bag bans.