Plastic Bags

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.

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  1. Yeah, but still.
    These things are about signaling, not conservation. And the bans will continue to spread, like so much coliform bacteria.

    1. Yup.

      Portland banned grocery stores using plastic bags.

      Now I’m stuck with handleless paper (because why would the store care about making me happy with handles, for a few cents more), and I curse the City Council and Mayor Sam Goddamn Adams ever time I go shopping.

      They’re never getting a “yes” vote on anything they ask for, ever, between this and “half as much garbage service for the same price, but free compost bins”.

  2. actually made almost entirely from natural gas, not oil.

    Very well. *Fossil fuels*, then, Mr. Smartypants!

    1. *Ms.* Smartypants!


  3. I hope the report had a whole chapter on dog shit. A significant subculture of large dog owners who use grovery bags to pick up dog shit off their neighbor’s lawns, sidewalks, and on public lands would come completely undone without a reliable supply of plastic grocery bags.

    1. grovery bags

      Like “grovel”. I like it!

    2. That’s why my sister and I do with her husky.

    3. They work well for cat shit too. And as liners for small trash cans. I think just about every plastic shopping bag we get is reused.
      When given the choice, I take paper bags, simply because I find them more aesthetically pleasing.

    4. I hope the report has a chapter on re-use generally.

      Sure, I always have a couple of plastic bags when walking the dog.

      I also use the bags as trash bin liners.

      If they ban the bags, I’ll just buy them in the store, and only get a single use rather than multiple use.

      I thought the mantra was: “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” The plastic bag ban makes this more difficult.

    5. What will they do about those plastic bags sold *specifically* for picking up pet shit? Will those be banned as well?

  4. I remember that San Francisco did a study after the ban. The results, no statistical significances and in some areas the plastic waste was higher.

    If it was incorrect, the revision was never published. As to the SF study? It has gone down the memory hole.

    1. Here is a snippit,

      “Surveyors assessed more than 100 randomly selected sites in the city each year, counting every piece of litter in an area half the length of a city block. In 2007, before the ban was introduced, plastic bags amounted to 0.5 percent of large litter. By 2009, the percentage climbed to around 1.5 percent.

      During the same three-year period, the average amount of litter stayed about the same.

      San Francisco’s ban effected no measurable change in plastic bag litter, at least in the first two years.

      The city hasn’t collected any litter data since the 2009 survey, Rodriguez said.”


      1. It’s because people in surrounding areas can get plastic bags! The ban has to be total for it to work its glorious magic!

        1. Once Chicago implements its ban, I’ll be shopping in the suburbs more specifically to get more plastic bags. They work well for trash can liners, packing my lunch and gym clothes, bringing home dirty clothes from a trip, and putting an old chicken container in so I don’t have to immediately take the trash out before my kitchen smells like a rotting animal.

  5. Plastic Bag Bans Are Expensive, Ineffective, and Kinda Gross

    you say that as if an appeal to reason is going to work with the ban crowd.

    1. That’s why the “kinda gross” part is in there. Appeal to germophobia and general squeamishness.

      1. Yeah because a bunch of dirty hippies are going to worry about germs

  6. Alt-text is cheap, effective, and awesome.

  7. Seattle’s fucking moronic plastic bag ban has been just as stupid as I expected it to be. The fancier grocery stores just give you paper bags for free (they’re supposed to charge you 5 cents per bag but after a bit all the chains just started eating the fee to not annoy their customers). So now there are a ton of paper bags being used instead. What a victory!

    1. Not around here. None of the stores have eaten the tax and are passing it on directly. And they charge you for any bag in DC, plastic or paper.

      There must be a provision that forbids not charging the customer directly, since that would work against the ostensible goal of reducing use of the bags. That sounds exactly like what the cunts in our County Council would do.

    2. Paper unlike natural gas is a renewable resource, so yeah paper is better. Id still be pissed if they did that shit here i like my free supply of reusable bags

      1. But it means more trees are killed so that should piss off enviroweenies…if they actually cared about the environment.

        1. The biggest planter of new trees is the lumber and paper industry.

      2. Natural Gas is, in fact, renewable. It is a product of natural decay.

        Greenville County (Enoree) Landfill Gas Utilization Project

  8. There was a norovirus outbreak traced to reusable grocery bags in 2010.…..rocery-bag

  9. Litter has nothing to do with it. It’s how to squeeze even more blood out of those rubes. And since it has the best of intentions, the middle-class, suburban mouth breathers will get completely behind it and shame anyone who has the temerity to question it.

    Now, of we can just do something about those filthy, litterbug Canucks….

    1. Sorry, that second sentence was intended for the areas that didn’t ban the bags, but instead assigned a bag tax, like DC and Monkey County, MD did.

      I love it when I can shop in another area and just get handed a my items in a plastic bag without any questions. Fuck you, Monkey County.

      1. Best come to VA before we blow the bridges and seal off DC and MD.

        1. If you haven’t done it by now, it’s too late.

          Besides, NOVA and suburban MD is just one long, unending metropolitan area of bootlicking suck.

    2. no joke. here in Dallas the ban is producing 5 fulltime no work government jobs. it was spearheaded by our retarded former mayor who once gave the keys to city to Michael Vick for all his good works as a role model. after the dog shit.

      1. Wait, there’s a plastic bag ban here in Dallas?

        And which of our retard mayors did the Michael Vick thing?

  10. I’ll bet the Koch Brothers are behind this, profiting whether plastic or paper bags are used/forbidden.

  11. You should know that the only thing that really matters is how to progressive do-gooders feel about themselves and their moral superiority. Actual outcomes are irrelevant and only for pedantic types.

  12. I like the reusable bags. They are cheap and pretty good. You can put a lot of stuff in them and use them for other purposes besides groceries. But I’ll ask for a plastic bag for potentially leaky meats and things that aren’t packaged.

    1. yeah you gotta be fucking Full retard to put your chicken in the same bag as raw fruits and veggies, a little personal responsibility goes fucking miles.
      on the plus side, we could just have found the quickest way to let the stupid die off from our society

  13. I don’t get the chart. Bunch of cities and Alberta? Alberta is a province.

    As for the bags, I pay the bloody .5 cents at the store to bag my items in plastic.

  14. Let me get this right Katherine won’t vote but she shops with reusable bags. Well clearly she has no problem with wasting her time on symbolic gestures even if they are counter productive.

  15. That was one of the biggest shockers I’ve gotten since moving to Seattle. I have to pay 5 cents for a paper bag, usually without even handles.

    Easily, the worst thing ever.

  16. Per the article lead-in: There was a study, which I am too lazy to find now, showing that the San Francisco bag restrictions were linked to a rise in emergency room admittances for food poisoning, and to a number of deaths.

  17. Q: “What’s this extra charge for?”

    A: “We charge you for the plastic bags to discourage people from littering. It will help clean up the river”

    Q: “So paying for the this bag allows me to throw it in the river? Awesome!”

    A: ?

  18. I think Katherine Mangu-Ward just kind of admitted she is a bit of a slob. It never occurred to me not to wash my reusable bags, but maybe you should shop at a better store because if you are picking the package with the dripping blood you probably gave yourself food poisoning from it touching your vegetables, fruit and household items.

  19. Too bad you geniuses aren’t familiar with the “washing” technology. Works on bags, handkerchiefs, table linens, even clothing!

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